Long-Awaited 5-25-77 is a Coming-of-Age Triumph
Alienated, hopeful-filmmaker Pat Johnson’s epic story growing up in rural Illinois, falling in love, and becoming the first fan of the movie that changed everything.
There are two films coming out in November that are in the coming-of-age genre and entail the filmmaker telling a fictionalized version of his youth, including how he fell in love with the movies in the 1960s and met a famous filmmaker.
One is Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, and the other is 5-25-77, the new, very long-in-the-works movie from Patrick Read Johnson, the director of Spaced Invaders and Baby’s Day Out. A character playing Spielberg, the longtime friend and collaborator of George Lucas, even appears in the latter film.
5-25-77, named for the original release date of Star Wars: A New Hope, is Johnson’s unmistakable magnum opus, one that bases a coming-of-age story around a unique aspect of Johnson’s biography: While visiting Industrial Light and Magic in the spring of 1977, he got to see an early cut of Star Wars, becoming possibly the first fan of the movie.
It’s not quite up to the level of The Fabelmans, nor is Johnson of anything close to Spielberg’s stature as a filmmaker. But is one of the better recent coming-of-age films, one that mines nostalgia in a way that feels unique and new.
The other twist with 5-25-77 is that it was in the works for a long, long time. Its time from the start of production to release was about 18 years, which is longer than Boyhood took to make. Principal filming took place between 2004 and 2006, with various effects shots added years later. The film has been screened at different stages, and finally got a theatrical release this fall, with the VOD release set for November 7, with a Blu-ray release to come later in November.
The young “Pat Johnson” is a nerd who loves movies and makes his own with the primitive equipment available, and hanging out with his friends, his bully (Justin Mentell) and the girl he likes (Emmi Chen.) Mentell was killed in a car accident in 2010, and this is his final film role.
This is classic teen stuff, which likely owes more to the legacy of another classic film directed by George Lucas, American Graffiti. There’s great dialogue, with the characters arguing about movies.
Meanwhile, Pat dreams of a chance to head out to Hollywood, finally getting his shot when he’s introduced to the editor of Filmmaker Magazine (Austin Pendleton), which leads to his stumbling into that early showing of the original Star Wars.
Things get a bit more complicated when he heads back to his Illinois hometown, planning a perfect opening night for the movie on the titular date. But just as Spielberg’s new film is largely about choosing between love and art, Pat finds his Hollywood dreams don’t quite fit with his life now.
The late Gary Kurtz, who actually produced Star Wars and American Graffiti, and The Godfather‘s Fred Roos are among the executive producers, and the film was able to secure the rights to lots of Lucasfilm music and iconography (Also Sprach Zarathustra, on the other hand, was composed by Brahms in the 19th century and is therefore likely in the public domain.)
Star Wars fandom has something of a bad name these days, but 5-25-77 does a lot to bring back the good feelings.
This was primarily filmed at a time, which was mostly prior to when Star Wars fandom went to shit. It was the era of “George Lucas ruined my childhood” (not, to be fair, this movie’s position), which came long before the “women and wokeness are ruining Star Wars” epoch. The film does, however, show Pat as possibly the first fanboy, out of many to come, to allow his relationship with Star Wars to screw up his relationship with a girl he likes.
Sure, we had to wait a couple of decades for it. But 5-25-77 is truly outstanding.
November 6, 2022 at 8:38 am
Great review BUT twice you incorrectly call the film “9-25-77”. You should probably correct that to “5-25-77”. Can’t wait to see this.