Indian Summer

Awash in romantic nostalgia for bygone childhood spent in summer camps, Indian Summer is a sentimental, TV sitcom-like, feel-good film. However, graced with some humor and first-rate acting, pic is amiable enough to please thirtysomething audiences, and perhaps older viewers as well. The cast and clear appeal of the genre could insure a strong opening and modest long-term box-office life.

Writer-director Mike Binder places his comedy in the familiar cinematic territory of Return of the Secaucus 7, The Big Chill, and most recently Peter's Friends. But he adds a new element to the “reunion” genre: Instead of having the characters meet for an indoors weekend, this regrouping takes place in the camp where they spent their l972 summer. This way, the gorgeous Camp Tamakwa takes center-stage and functions as much more than physical setting. The visually stunning locale also makes Indian Summer less theatrical and less claustrophobic than other films of its genre.

Returning to their childhood summer camp, seven young adults revisit their past, reexamine their present, and prepare for a better future. They represent a vivid assortment of diverse characters, including the single and increasingly desperate Jennifer (Elizabeth Perkins), Matthew and Kelly (Vincent Spano and Julie Warner), whose marriage seems in trouble, and the insensitive “macho” Jamie (Matt Craven) and his much younger g.f. Gwen (Kimberly Williams).

Presiding over the group is Unca Lou (Alan Arkin), a benevolent patriarch who has devoted his entire life to the camp. As soon as the members arrive, Lou treats them like kids again, “forcing” them to engage in tetherball, sailing, canoeing, swimming, and other competitive camp activities.

True to form, the tale involves revelation of personal secrets, frustrated loves, new sexual yearnings, and some unexpected truths. The most “dramatic” event is Lou's announcement of his retirement after four decades, though he has made no provisions for the camp's continuity. The friends are annoyed, for summer camps are apparently rapidly disappearing from the American scene. This sad news hangs on the narrative, though not so heavy as to spoil the fun of the daily–and nightly–routines.

Drawing on his personal experience in Canada's Algonquin Provincial Park, Binder has constructed a loose structure that consists of vignettes, some funnier than others. Indian Summer's slender plot line provides a pretext for a rather shallow examination of all kinds of pre-mid-life crises. As helmer, Binder lets his whimsical adventure get a little too comforting and cuddling cute; the gags and pranks are often surrounded with dead, weightless space.

Fortunately, the highly accomplished ensemble keeps this confection tasty and enjoyable; waves of recognition will flow between the actors' escapades and the audience. Alan Arkin, who could have played his role half asleep, still manages to show a gleaming pleasure in his moments of broad farce. And each of the younger performers registers strongly in his or her big moment, though the women, whose roles are richer and better scripted, come off better.

Of the entire cast, the three stand-out performers are Elizabeth Perkins and Bill Paxton, both in showy roles, and Diane Lane, in a subtler and more difficult part. As the single, lonely woman, Perkins gives her lines a personal rhythm and brittle snap. Paxton, who was so touching as the cop in One False Move, demonstrates that he is an able physical comedian. Diane Lane renders an entirely disciplined performance that underlies the vulnerability of her character; Lane also plays a cameo role of an elderly woman.

Technical credits are proficient in every department, particularly Tom Sigel's lensing of the handsome locations and the black-and-white flashbacks.

As a romantic comedy, Indian Summer is not banal, but its sketches are deja vu.