By Don Simpson | April 1, 2013
Director: Lex Lybrand
Writers: Lex Lybrand, Kelli Horan
Starring: Danielle Ploeger, Kelsey Thomas, Gabriel Peña, Timothy Bowman, Casey Charland, Adriane Shown Deveney, Michael Foulk, Sean Gasser, David Harper, Lauren Hemphill, Brady James, David Laurence, Kara Rainer, Barry Savant, Brandon Stroud, Destiny Talley
When Allie (Danielle Evon Ploeger) returns home to visit her hospitalized mother, she does not expect to be sticking around her boring hometown for very long. Allie would much rather spend her summer break in the big city with her college friends, but fate determines that she has some very important life lessons to learn in her hometown before she will ever be able to escape.
Allie’s hometown best friend, Kenzie (Kelsey Thomas), volunteers to help Allie avoid the boredom of small town monotony, all the while also distracting her from some recent family drama. The first step, Kenzie forcefully encourages Allie to join The Browncoats (a nice Firefly reference), the co-ed softball team that she manages. According to Kenzie, there is nothing that beer, softball and cute boys can’t cure — and Kenzie is right. Allie quickly realizes the importance of friendship and fun, especially during emotionally challenging times. Most importantly, Allie learns that small town life ain’t so bad after all.
Sure, the story of a high-falootin’ college kid begrudgingly returning to their podunk hometown is not a new one, and neither is a feel-good sports movie; but Summer League strikes me as a novel and fresh approach to both of these genres. At least some of the credit for this is due to Kelli Horan’s script. It is so great to experience a film that is led by two strong female protagonists and portrays their friendship so honestly; and it is the honesty and naturalism of the characters and scenarios that really makes Summer League work for me. This is a story that Hollywood would have instantly turned into a broad comedy, but Horan opts to focus on the seriousness and severity of Allie’s situation. They are not afraid to go to some sad and contemplative places; but then when there is comedic relief, it never seems forced or out of place. (Summer League features some really well-executed “That’s what she said!” jokes.)
It might seem fitting that a cast and crew of rookies made a film about a beer league softball team, but it is pretty surprising that the resulting film is as strong of a debut as Summer League. Having been deeply embedded in the Austin film community for a few years now, I was admittedly very apprehensive about screening an Austin film with no recognizable names. (I mean, really, what is an Austin film without Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek, John Merriman, Ashley Spillers and Heather Kafka?) Thankfully, though, director Lex Lybrand and his rookie team knock this film way out of the proverbial park. Summer League is an impeccably-made, professional-quality film, from the aforementioned writing and directing to the cinematography (Austin Shaffer) and editing (Lex Lybrand). The impressive production quality is rivaled by the astounding break-out performances of Danielle Ploeger, Kelsey Thomas and Gabriel Peña. I am not sure where any of these people came from, but with Summer League they have certainly claimed their right to share the field with the big girls and boys of the Austin film community.