The Last of the High Kings (1996) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Summer Fling (1996) is the US release of an Irish coming of age film originally titled The Last of the High Kings.

Jared Leto fears he has failed his senior exams, and will not be admitted to college. The possibility of having to get a job, rather than going to school and chasing women leads him to decide that he better make his final carefree summer a memorable one, at least until his grades arrive. "Memorable" would definitely include sex with one of the two school heart throbs, Lorraine Pilkington, or Emily Mortimer, and he doesn't much care which. Leto finally gets together with Pilkington, then gets several surprises.

Calling his family "odd" is a massive understatement. His father is a stage actor, and pops in for the occasional visit on his way to a new show in another town. His mother, played by Catherine O'Hara, is the head of the household, and by far the high point of this film. She is a dyed-in-the-wool Irish Catholic, and misses no opportunity to put down the bloody "Proties." O'Hara is politically active, fights the Protie neighbors, and meddles constantly in her kids lives. Leto has a sister his own age, a younger nerd brother, a small sister, and a small brother who is severely mentally handicapped, but is the only one in the family he truly likes.

During the course of the summer, he fends off the sexual advances of an American visitor (Christina Ricci).

I personally enjoyed it on several levels. The characters were odd but believable, O'Hara was a hoot, and there was a lot of Irish culture in the course of the film.


Lorraine Pilkington shows her breasts in a rather amusing and believable sex scene.

Scoop's notes in yellow:

The process of creating and funding The Last of the High Kings was probably more interesting than the film itself. Before the smoke had cleared, seven different production companies had been involved, and they came from four different European countries plus the United States. When it looked like the film would never get made at all, Miramax came along like a white knight and bailed it out. The North American money was welcome, of course, but the Miramax involvement forced the producer and director to make casting decisions they did not want to make, because Miramax wanted lots of faces familiar to North American audiences. Thus, Jared Leto, Christina Ricci, and Catherine O'Hara got cast.

Gabriel Byrne is well known in America, but was not one of the dictated choices. In fact, Byrne actually wrote the first draft of the screenplay adapted from Ferdia MacAnna's 1991 novel. When director David Keating first contacted MacAnna, the latter informed him that Byrne had already asked about the rights. Keating asked for a meeting with Byrne, and they ending up setting the terms for a certain type of hands-off collaboration.

Here's an interview with David Keating from Ireland's Film West magazine.

Despite the fact that this movie took seven years to come to DVD in North America, and never had a successful commercial release in North American theaters, I thought it was a cute movie.

Although it is officially a chick-flick (1.2 points differential between male scores and female scores at IMDb), I think High Kings works beautifully as a coming of age film. Like many of the best films of that type, it takes place in the last summer after high school, before the old gang splits up and goes in separate directions. It is not a blockbuster type of concept, but a personal film. It is not a very ambitious effort, but it succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is about all you can expect from any film.

As I see it, it meets all the basic requirements of the "coming of age" genre:

1. Nostalgia. I was not a teenager in Ireland in 1977, but I felt like I got a great sense of what it was like to be one. Is it accurate? I don't know. But it was vivid and evocative, and it felt real to me.

2. Credibility. Unless the film is going for wacky summer comedy status, which this film was not, it is essential to avoid high concepts and plot contrivances. No murders, no conspiracies, no exchanging bodies with another soul, no geeks using their technical skills to defeat jocks in football, no geniuses, no identical twins. This film just consists of normal people experiencing the hope, exhilaration, sadness, and uncertainty of the transition from childhood to young adulthood.

3. Emotional involvement. It's easy to put oneself into the shoes of the characters, to share their triumphs and disappointments.

4. Sexual anticipation. The pursuit of the two girls is pictured as it might really have happened. I really felt like I was going through the stages of the pursuit with the kid.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85

5. Humor. The Catherine O'Hara character is quite funny. She sometimes seems kind of larger than life, and at first you can't imagine any mother being that narrow-minded or talking that way to her children, but she later proves to be engaging and complex, and loving in her own crazy way, so that by the end of the movie we can believe she was a real person, really the author's mom, and not a "made-for-cinema" character. Also funny, albeit underused, was the permanently world-weary Irish character actor, Steven Rea, as a droll taxi driver.

The Critics Vote

  • no major reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.2/10. It has full chick-flick status with a 1.2 gender differential (5.9 men, 7.1 women)
  • It was not released theatrically in North America
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a solid C as a quirky foreign coming of age film. Scoop says, "C or C+. I see it as a film which didn't try to do a lot or reach a very big audience, but stayed quite true to itself and accomplished what it wanted to do, like a perfectly crafted Joycean tale from The Dubliners or Portrait of the Artist."

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