4YE’s Big Movie Binge: SPF-18

Credit: Netflix

Netflix has been hitting all the marks. Maybe they’ve been hitting all the marks for a while and are just now hitting their comedy and drama potential and people are starting to pay attention. Either way, Netflix isn’t just a streaming company anymore. They are a filmmaking giant. Okay, giant might be an exaggeration. If the shoes fits, then Netflix is wearing it. The company has revitalized the romantic comedy. It took a few films but now that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (you can read that review here) has hit the airwaves and become a hit, we need another film to tide us over until Sierra Burgess is a Loser is released or until we get P.S. I Still Love You in movie form.

Is SPF-18 that film? Does it have the potential of being that film? Well, it all depends on how you look at it. There’s no doubt that Noah Centineo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before‘s Peter Kavinsky, looks good in a wetsuit as Johnny Sanders Jr. There’s no shortage of celebrity cameos, including one massively hilarious appearance by Keanu Reeves. There is also the wonderful cinemaphotography, spearheaded by new director Alex Israel. Despite all of the good, though, SPF-18 left me wanting more. That’s not saying it wasn’t a good movie it just didn’t feel like it was fully fleshed out like it needed to be.

Penny Cooper (Carson Meyer) and boyfriend Johnny Sanders Jr. (Centineo) got together after a surfing accident claimed the life of Johnny’s father. They’re in love but they’re not in “love” love. When Johnny gets the opportunity to house sit for Keanu Reeves, Johnny invites Penny and her cousin Camilla (Bianca Santos) to spend the summer on the beach in Malibu. What follows is a coming of age story punctuated by surfing, the arrival of Nashville singer Ash (Jackson White), and learning to follow your heart. Other cast members include Molly Ringwald as Penny’s actress mother, Goldie Hawn as the narrator, and Rosanna Arquette as Johnny’s mother Linda.

Basically, and unfortunately, the conflict in SPF-18 wasn’t up to par enough to make it into the compelling film it was trying to be. I think that it comes down to the fact that the runtime for SPF-18 is only an hour and fifteen minutes which isn’t long enough to effectively establish strong conflict. Maybe it would have worked had there been only two characters in the film but with the final total running at five, the film felt too bloated for the lean runtime.

The film establishes that Penny was the main character and Johnny was the second main character but Johnny was quickly shuffled aside for Ash. Sadly, the chemistry between Meyer and White wasn’t what it should have been. Now, the chemistry between Santos and Centineo was off the chart once Camilla and Johnny get together but even their relationship was short-shifted. The film also would’ve done better had Camilla and Johnny been the focus. As a whole, Penny and Ash weren’t all that memorable.

Aside from that, though, SPF-18 does have some wonderful cinematography. Malibu is given a gorgeous, shiny gloss that almost makes me want to go find myself by the ocean and learn surfing. Israel has a keen eye for the atmospheric feel of a coming of age story. He brought in the mythology of Icarus too in really strange ways but it somehow fit. I just wish the film was longer.

Shelby Arnold
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