A Vietnam War era love story told from the perspective of the women who were left behind, writer/director Sharon Wilharm's Summer of '67 opens theatrically on June 29th in Nashville, Tennessee followed by a series of one-night theater, festival, church, and community screenings throughout the summer in advance of the film's planned home entertainment release on Veterans Day.
If you're aware of Wilharm's work, typically alongside longtime co-producer/collaborator and husband Fred Wilharm, then you already know that the Wilharms are acclaimed Christian filmmakers unafraid to approach a film from a "whatever it takes" approach if it'll result in good storytelling and a terrific final product. Their last two films, Providence and The Good Book, were told silent cinema style with Providence, in particular, experiencing quite a bit of success as it was chosen by AMC to be part of their AMC Independent lineup with a limited nationwide theatrical release.
Summer of '67 is based on real life events and tells the story of three women - Milly (Rachel Screy), Kate (Bethany Davenport), and Ruby Mae (Sharonne Lanier) - whose sweethearts are fighting off in Vietnam during the late 1960's.
MIlly has recently married Gerald (Cameron Gilliam), though the two are forced to live with Gerald's mother (Mimi Sagadin), an unsatisfying arrangement for Milly owing to Gerald's inability to find decent employment until after he's finished his military service. Gerald, in a rush to make that happen, heads off to war with Milly tending to their newborn and unaware that she's expecting a second child.
Kate, on the other hand, is more than a little bit of a hippie who is completely opposed to the war despite having taken a bit of a liking to Gerald's younger cousin, Peter (Christopher Dalton). When he unexpectedly enlists in the military himself, the unhappy Kate immerses herself in the hippie lifestyle in his absence.
The film's third key character, Ruby Mae (Sharonne Lanier), serves as the housekeeper to Milly and Kate while quietly hoping for a relationship of her own. When Reggie (Jerrold Edwards) shows up on the scene, Ruby Mae seems to have had her dream come true until Reggie reveals that he's been drafted.
The stories that follow weave together both expected and unexpected story elements, though they are consistently infused by the Wilharms' constant devotion to quality, faith-based storytelling that is universal in appeal and meaningful. While you're not going to find anything in the way of hardcore grit in Summer of '67, you can rest assured that Wilharm isn't afraid to be emotionally raw and honest including an early scene in the film that completely surprised me and put my emotions where they needed to be for the rest of the film.
It's hard not to love casts like the one that Wilharm found herself working with, a cast filled with largely bi-vocational creative types acting because they love it and because of how it can impact the lives of others. The result is that Summer of '67 feels less cinematic and more like a natural glimpse into the lives of the characters portrayed. The film has already received a slew of endorsements and it seems destined to be the Wilharm's latest success on the indie faith-based circuit.
You'll absolutely fall in love with Sharonne Lanier's Ruby Mae, who personifies goodness and you can't help but root for her, while both Rachel Schrey and Mimi Sagadin particularly shine partially owing to their characters feeling a bit more complex in terms of character development. However, it's definitely worth noting that there's really not a weak link here at all. This is a terrific ensemble cast.
The film's largely being set in the mid-to-late 60's means that you can expect an abundance of muted tones and flowers with power, a delightful approach to designing the film and Fred Wilharm's lensing of the film.
While there are moments, particularly with the film's sound mix, where the low-budget shines through, for the most part you're not going to mind thanks to Wilharm's sharp, involving dialogue and an overall story that keeps it real without resorting to the gimmicks often present in more secular projects. While Summer of '67 is largely targeted to faith-based audiences, veteran families should find the film meaningful as well.
For more information on Summer of '67, visit the film's website linked to in the credits to the left of this review and be sure to watch for it either in theatrical release or, hopefully, at a screening near you in the future.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic