"Indian Summer" isn't the sort of film I normally watch. A light comedy about the innocence of childhood contrasted with the problems of adulthood, the film engages in deep sentimentality on a regular basis. I am rarely suckered in by sappy, syrupy movies. "Indian Summer" is different; I first saw the film on cable back in the early 1990s and quickly learned to like its ensemble cast, wonderful scenery, and funny moments. Since I usually watch horror films, the irony of viewing a movie set at a summer camp where no one expires at the hands of a machete wielding madman still makes me chuckle. When I stumbled over a DVD version of "Indian Summer" recently, I knew I had to revisit the movie. I suspected I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I did ten years ago. I was wrong. The movie resonates even more deeply because I am ten years older than when I first saw it. I never went to summer camp as a child, except for a weekend stay as part of a sixth grade project, but I can completely identify with many of the movie's themes nonetheless. I think most of us tend to idealize memories of our childhood even if the recollections aren't as poignant as we would like to think. "Indian Summer" captures perfectly this tendency and throws it back at you with a few laughs.
The owner of Camp Tamakwa, "Uncle" Lou Handler (Alan Arkin), has finally decided to sell his summer camp and retire. He feels that the kids today don't identify with him like they once did, so he wants to move on. Before he sells, though, he decides to hold a reunion at the camp and invite as many of his former guests as he can. Only seven show up: Jamie Ross (Matt Craven), Beth Warden (Diane Lane), Jack Belston (Bill Paxton), Jennifer Morton (Elizabeth Perkins), Brad Berman (Kevin Pollack), Matthew Berman (Vincent Spano), and Kelly Berman (Jennifer Warner). Ross brings along his young girlfriend Gwen Daugherty (Kimberly Williams), which brings the total to eight. All seven of these people are now in their thirties, with busy lives in the city and a host of adult problems. For example, Brad and Matthew Berman run a clothing company, but Matt wants out so he can pursue his dream of becoming an artist. His wife Kelly, whom he met at the camp as a child, has issues with Matt that could very well lead to divorce. Beth Warden's husband recently passed away, so she has serious recovery issues with which to deal. Jamie Ross is an arrogant dolt that treats women as objects, perhaps due to some inferiority issues and a fear of growing older. Jennifer Morton is the chain-smoking cynic who has yet to find a husband. And Jack Belston was the one kid kicked out of camp for an unspecified incident, and whose life has since been one long downward spiral.
Camp Tamakwa might not heal all wounds, but it will fix many a problem. As Uncle Lou runs the adults through the daily routine of summer camp, such as sailing, swimming tests, hikes, boxing, and foot races, the old identities of childhood start to reassert themselves. The group complains about the lousy food, play practical jokes on one another (called "shrecks," for some reason), and generally reconnect with the important things in life. Gradually, problems that seemed insurmountable and best left unsaid in the city come out at Tamakwa. We discover why Lou kicked Belston out of camp, and see the issue resolved. Brad and Matt hash out their business problems, and Kelly learns to stand up to her husband in the boxing ring. Beth learns to face the death of her loved one head on with a little help from Jack Belston. Gwen Daugherty, although not a member of the Tamakwa clique, learns to stand up to her domineering boyfriend and make her issues heard. And the whole group gets a lot of laughs by poking fun at Lou's clumsy helper Stick Coder (Sam Raimi). By the time the campers leave, they have a better grasp on their personal issues.
Director and scriptwriter Mike Binder has fashioned an immensely enjoyable picture with "Indian Summer." It is tough to make an ensemble movie with characters and plot threads as well developed as they are here. By the end of the movie, you know these characters intimately. All the actors do a superb job, but special mention goes to Alan Arkin, Kevin Pollack, Bill Paxton, and Julie Warner. I cannot remember a film where Arkin failed to turn in a bravura performance, and he does so again as the benevolent father figure Lou Handler. Paxton has the troubled drifter role down pat, and Pollack charms with his usual humor (no William Shatner impressions here, unfortunately). The incredibly beautiful Julie Warner never fails to catch my eye in any film she is in. She was probably the reason I watched the picture in the first place. The best part of the film happens at the beginning when the adults arrive at the camp and the scenery's colors suddenly explode into bright brilliancy. What a great way to show the dreariness of adult life compared to the memories of childhood!
"Indian Summer" is definitely worth seeing. Unfortunately, the DVD doesn't have any extras, not even a commentary track from some of the actors, which would have been nice. I really ought to quit renting this one and just buy a copy. Of course, I would have to hide it behind a mountain of horror movies on the shelf just in case anyone I know happened to see it sitting there. I have a reputation to protect, after all. Give "Indian Summer" a look the next time you're in the video store. Chances are you will probably enjoy it.