I've been waiting all summer for a really good movie, and the bucket o' nostalgia that is Super 8 finally delivered.
I was glad to see it with CultureGeek Jr., because this was a movie designed for an adolescent boy - and not the overgrown adolescent boys obsessed with sex and stupidity. The nostalgia of Super 8 doesn't just reside in being set in 1979, though the rock-bottom gas prices and newfangled Walkman provide a bit of wry amusement.
No, there is a nostalgia in this movie for the days when a group of young friends, disbelieved by the adults, try to save the town from the monster on the silver screen. There's a simplicity to the story that feels very old, like movies I enjoyed as a young girl.
All the young actors do a good job with their characters, who take a step away from Stock Character into actual people. I particularly give the writers kudos for the character of the Fat Kid. In most movies, particularly the classic The Goonies, the Fat Kid is essentially stupid, used for cheap comedy and cares for nothing but food. In this movie, the Fat Kid is the de facto leader of the gang, the director of the movie and has a crush on the girl. Bravo.
But the best acting chops go to young Joel Courtney as Lead Kid, and to Elle Fanning as the Girl In Question. Young Joe begins the movie with a dead mother. His grief, and that of his father (Kyle Chandler), are a palpable force throughout the movie - as is the secret his crush Alice carries. It would be easy to make the movie entirely about this unhappy past and its consequences, but instead it is a background to the monster loose in town.
Oh hush. It was in the trailers.
The monster and its secret are a bit of a letdown - J.J. Abrams reworking Cloverfield yet again, with a bit more Spielbergian moral ambivalence. But the movie rarely lags, and the few surprises are good ones. Cliche? Perhaps. Overwrought disaster-movie action? Probably. But it's still fun, and its target audiences are perfectly balanced: young kids who identify with the kids, and older Gen Xers who remember Walkmans.
CultureGeek Jr. called it "E.T. crossed with The Goonies." It occurred to me that for him, this kind of movie requires going back to the 1980s or earlier. There simply aren't a lot of good movies about kids facing down the monster anymore, not without waving a wand, at least. There's no magic here, no strange destiny held over your head since birth - just brains, guts and the imagination of a child, that most powerful force that we allow to vanish far too quickly.
I could see the twists coming a mile off, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the hell out of Super 8. Better yet, I watched my twelve-year-old son enjoy it, and was glad to see him watching ordinary kids do extraordinary things. Watch this movie with a kid... or at least try to remember what it was like to be a kid yourself.