Written & Directed by Jeff Roda
Starring: Alivia Clark, Tanner Flood, James Freedson-Jackson, Oliver Gifford, Nolan Lyons, Sam McCarthy, Ivy Miller, Taylor Richardson, and Erich Schuett.
Producers: Nikola Duravcevic, Emily Ziff Griffin, Andrew Cahill, and Stephanie Marin.
Synopsis: It’s 1984 and outside a small-town nightclub, a group of 8th graders gather, grappling with a spate of recent suicides, UFO sightings, their absentee parents, and each other. 18 TO PARTY spans a single evening in the lives of these kids, but manages to transport us fully to a time when waiting for something to happen felt just as significant as the thing itself. Gorgeously atmospheric, with a pulsating sense of anticipation that steadily builds, the film pulls us into the fears, wounds, and desires of each character, ultimately revealing that hope may arrive from the last place we expect. The meticulously authentic production design, killer soundtrack, and universally excellent performances recall the spirit of classic 80s teen movies like Stand By Me and The Breakfast Club.
18 to Party caught my eye for a lot of reasons. The description reminded me of Freaks and Geeks, a show that I greatly enjoyed. I’m pleased to say that there are a lot of similar notes between the two. Set in the Reagan era, this movie taps into teen fears to great effect. The fear of growing up, the fear of unfulfilled potential, and a fear of opening up to others. I empathized with almost every character in turns, and the film hit on a lot of nostalgia for me.
Though 18 to Party is largely a slice of life film about a group of 8th graders going to a club, there are a lot of other thematic layers built on that foundation. Prior to the events of the film, a large number of people reported a UFO sighting. Many of the kid’s parents are attending a town meeting about those sightings, giving the kids a chance to have some fun. I loved that as a premise, and the UFO sightings play a big role later on. I enjoyed how the talk of aliens inspired some characters to rise above their terrestrial drama.
One additional aspect of this film I really enjoyed was a discussion of teen mortality. 7 high schoolers tragically died prior to the night of the UFO meeting, and the kids spend a lot of time discussing whether those deaths were related or not. They talk about their odds of surviving high school based on that death rate, and an air of tension hangs over the movie after that discussion. I found myself expecting one of the kids to die, or to instigate some kind of mass shooting. Overall, I felt the movie did a brilliant job of addressing this difficult subject without being overly threatening or graphic. I think school-age viewers will find something to relate to in the fears of these 8th graders.
This isn’t my typical type of movie, but I really found a lot to like in it! My only criticism is the acting of some of the kids. The delivery of some more emotional moments felt overdone, but in general, I found the performances relatable and realistic. If a teen drama with just a dash of Stranger Things appeals to you, I highly recommend 18 to Party.