There’s no doubt that Ping Pong Summer is someone’s childhood. It plays like a cherished memory, rosy and warm, rebuilt in miniature with such affection and detail it’s hard not to be moved by its sincerity.
Writer-director Michael Tully weaves his coming of age story with all the trappings of the ’80s, complete with feathered hair, parachute track suits, and a plot pulled straight from The Karate Kid.
It’s the standard underdog setup: Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte), an awkward teenage ping-pong enthusiast, must win the affections of the popular girl, Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley), by beating the local table tennis champion, who is, of course, also Stacy’s rich ex-boyfriend.
At times, the nostalgia is overwhelming, with winking references to former pop culture touchstones trumping substance. Beneath the veneer of candy-colored nylon, however, there are moments that spark with the genuine eagerness of a teenager at the cusp of adulthood.
Tully adeptly captures the restless energy of that fragile stage of independence when habit hasn’t yet defined identity. Rad wholeheartedly throws himself into his passions, and it’s his bare enthusiasm that makes all the hyperbolic tragedy and triumph of this cut-and-paste story work.
True to teenage life, the stakes are always elevated: Cocksure punks are evil archenemies, mercurial romances are true loves, and boys with dreams are conquering heroes. It’s a throwback film in both style and sentiment, and what it lacks in depth, it make up for with warmth.