REVIEW: The Hottest August
Dir. Brett Story
2019 | Canada/United States | 94 min.
It’s August 2017. For a matter of minutes, a total solar eclipse brings daytime darkness to the United States. Hurricane Harvey hits Texas. As tensions escalate between protestors and counter-protestors at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a car drives into a crowd of people, killing one woman and injuring others.
The Hottest August isn’t about any of those things in particular. Rather, it’s a collection of snapshots of the hopes, fears, and opinions of a random sampling of New Yorkers. These are variations on a theme, not your run-of-the-mill, traditional narrative structure.
Director Brett Story juxtaposes moving tableaus of summer life in New York, and interviews with mostly working class people who call the city’s boroughs home. She covers diverse ground, which makes the commonalities all the more poignant.
There’s a striking undercurrent of anxiety. College grads can’t find jobs, the neighbourhoods are changing, and the president’s untrustworthy. From the big stuff like economic downturn, systemic racism, and climate change, to more individual worries like the couple who don’t know how they’ll retire, to the mother who just wants to find her kids a home for when she’s gone, to one woman’s fear that she’ll be single forever –– there’s a lot to worry about.
But it’s summer, and even in the age of anxiety, life goes on.
Story’s camera sits back and observes in mostly wide shots. There are sandcastle-building competitions, baseball matches, neighbours cooling off at night with lawn chair chats on the city’s sidewalks. There’s also a look inside the 311 call centre, a de-escalation workshop, and a few moments at a Black Lives Matter rally. The characters we meet are genuine and recognizable. Regardless of what their politics and beliefs are, Story excels at accessing the vulnerable humanity of the people she meets. It’s not all grim meditations on the end of the world. Storybook narration provides food for thought and separates the film into thematic chapters. Story’s observational approach yields lovely, spontaneous moments that underscore the bumbling nature of human life. In one such golden moment, a wide shot happens to capture a gust of wind carrying a beach umbrella across the beach, with its elderly speedo-sporting owner in hot pursuit.
For the month of August, Story and her crew asked people in New York how they felt about the future. This film isn’t about providing answers or solutions. It’s a pensive look at what life is like in this strange time on the precipice of so much change. As species go extinct, sea levels rise, and summer weather is no longer predictable, there are still cities full of people working, dreaming, and worrying about the small stuff, the insurmountable stuff, and everything in between. The Hottest August is an opportunity for the viewer to reflect on how they feel about the future too.
Interested in seeing this film for yourself? Reserve your tickets for The Hottest August here.
Lauren Donnelly is a journalist and radio producer currently finishing a masters in journalism at the University of British Columbia. Born and raised in Manitoba, career opportunities in film brought Lauren to Vancouver nearly a decade ago. She still gets nostalgic for prairie skies, Movie Village, and sandwiches — you can’t get a decent sandwich on the west coast.