There’s something undeniably appealing about Pitching Tents, which premieres this month on Hulu. Set in 1984, the coming-of-age tale about a group of friends trying to make it to the cool party. Perhaps deliberately, it emulates the aesthetic of a John Hughes movie with the pun-friendly title of an ’80s sex romp. Sure, Pitching Tents doesn’t really break any new ground, but then again, it doesn’t really have to.
It’s a film steeped in nostalgia, and even though I was just starting grammar school when Pitching Tents was set, there’s something so pleasantly familiar with the denim-clad charmer. Nostalgia can be an alluring way to rope in viewers. (I mean, obviously — look at the effect it had on me). But too often, the nostalgia ends up the priority, which pushes the story into the margins. What you’re left with is some scattered characters clad in period-specific clothing engaging in shenanigans to a period-specific soundtrack.
Pitching Tents, while hitting most of the same beats, manages to climb above the typical nostalgia pitfalls by creating characters we actually care about. Michael Grant gives a serviceably charming performance as Danny, the kid who tries to please everyone while longing to pursue life as an artist. Typically the protagonist in a teen ensemble is either the big man on campus or an ostracized weirdo. Danny falls in the latter category. I mean, he likes to draw. Don’t act like you didn’t see that coming.
Anyway, one thing Pitching Tents does do differently is cast an adult in a sympathetic light. Typically in movies like these, anyone over the age of 18 is an adversary. If they’re an authority figure, then they’re a straight-up villain. Enter Jim Norton’s Mr. Mulligan, a down-on-his-luck guidance counselor who’s trying to get Danny to recognize his potential. Sure, there’s some nobility swirling around in his character’s motivation, but Norton takes full advantage of Mulligan’s dubious morality. It’s also refreshing to see an adult in a teen comedy that’s given an actual story arc that goes beyond sabotaging some charismatic kid’s future or whatever.
Though it’s clearly cribbing from cinematic predecessors like American Graffiti and Dazed And Confused, Pitching Tents doesn’t quite reach the same level. The film’s general aesthetic aside, it doesn’t quite have the era-capturing sensibility about it. What it does have is a smorgasbord of universal lessons, like forging your own path, be the person you think you can be, just kick back and have fun, and also… listen to your guidance counselor.
You can stream Pitching Tents on Hulu right now