Best Summer Ever wears its heart on its sleeve. It's hopelessly devoted to Grease, including casting 30-year-olds as teenagers. It's a bright, sunny musical, featuring numerous disabled actors. On paper, it's sounds refreshing and fun. In execution, it doesn't quite get there.
Its crucial misstep is in trying to be as corny as High School Musical but as hip as Booksmart. There are hints of sex and drugs and even some bad words, but the story is so smothered in cheese that these quasi-adult elements stick out like a sore thumb.
Rickey Alexander Wilson and Shannon DeVido are absolutely charming as the main couple. Tony has the typical jock physique and like Troy Bolton before him, is a star athlete hiding a passion for the arts. Sage is the tough, independent object of his affection. They profess their love on the last day of dance camp, both expecting to not see each other for months. But of course, fate brings them together and they end up attending the same high school in a backwoods town that is so progressive and inclusive as to be a complete fantasy.
Madeline Rhodes plays mean girl Beth, whose soul motivation is to be crowned homecoming queen, with Tony as king. Her scheme starts by sowing the standard relationship doubts, then escalates to trying to send Sage's moms to prison for drug trafficking. (No, seriously.) Teaming up for a counter-campaign with Tony's on-the-field rival would have been a lot easier.
It's easy to cheer for this film, but it's hard to recommend. If its songs were catchier or its dance numbers spectacular, it would be easy. Directors Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli don't have the chops of Herbert Ross (Footloose), Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) or Jon M. Chu (the Step Up sequels). If there were actual audiences at this year's festival, they would probably be tapping their toes, but no one would be humming a tunes after the screening.
But they did make this film radically inclusive, doing right by its numerous disabled actors. They gave them parts where their disability is not the focus of the story, and no one mocks them for being different. That alone makes it worth praising. Best Summer Ever could get by on a weak script if the musical elements were top-notch. But since they're just so-so, it would be more appropriate to call it Totally Average Summer.