Moving to Hermosa Beach, California in the summer of 1986 teenager Minnesota (Percy Hynes White) struggles to fit in with the cool kids. To improve his prospects and possibly land a shot with Brooke (Charlotte Sabina), the alluring, enigmatic surfer chick with whom he is hopelessly smitten, Minnesota tries out for the Junior Lifeguards. Joining him is his even dorkier friend Woods (Jake Ryan), whose inability to stand up to local beach bullies repeatedly lands Minnesota in trouble. Both boys also have to contend with chief lifeguard Tony (Diarmid Murtaugh), an intimidating Aussie whose accent no-one can understand, as well other mishaps in what proves an eventful and, for Minnesota, eye-opening summer.
This charming albeit uneven coming of age drama doles out Eighties nostalgia in a far more grounded and low-key vein than most of its heavy-handed ilk. There are the expected cringe-worthy Eighties fashions (Minnesota's saggy beach-shorts will strike an authentically embarrassing note for many an Eighties kid) and vintage pop tunes but the film wisely avoids overdosing on retro nods. Producer-director-co-screenwriter Bill Kiely is more interested in his young characters than shallow aesthetics. Nevertheless Kiely and cinematographer Darin Moran's dreamy azure visuals achieve a languid poetry while the decision to have the young cast perform their surfing scenes for real yields some striking, lyrical moments.
Story-wise however Age of Summer rides choppier waves. It is a sweet-natured, sensitive yet shallow study of youthful exuberance, first love and summer high-jinks. Amiable but unremarkable. The plot simply follows Minnesota from one misadventure to another. Often led by the nose by snarkier, ostensibly worldlier older boys (or dubious adult mentors including Peter Stormare as a crackpot hippie sage) as he discovers the delights of nudie mags, skateboarding, late night partying, spin the bottle and nascent sexual encounters. Interestingly Minnesota concludes his romantic journey not with dream girl Brooke but an encounter with the equally cute, sweet and less inhibited Felice (Bryana Salaz) though the film leaves it ambiguous as to which girl he ultimately chooses. While touching on prurient themes common in actual Eighties teen comedies, save for one very brief scene of adult female nudity, Age of Summer avoids sexual explicitness. Just as well given the cast look so authentically adolescent. Instead the film looks to portray teen lust with a degree of fumbling, awkward though benign honesty.
Along the way multiple plot threads weave in and out (Brooke's grief over her late brother; a missing college student; Minnesota's decaying friendship with the bullied yet tragically needy and selfish Woods) only some of which are resolved with an overly pat finale. All in all Age of Summer ambles along amiably enough without reaching a discernible point.