If 18 To Party serves any purpose, it is to encapsulate an era that is long gone. A time of seemingly infinite freedom that has many roadblocks, which tend to make way for the most fun moments. For these “lulls” are when true characters emerge, and it is during these stretches of time that may seem like a bore in the moment that will truly impact the rest of certain lives. With 18 To Party, filmmaker Jeff Roda takes one of these “lulls” and crafts a full film out of it. Certain to be reminiscent of classics like The Breakfast Club and definitely Dazed and Confused, the film never quite reaches these heights, but that’s perfectly okay.
This film is certainly about carving your own path, and each character is left to do this. Most of these actors are relatively unknown, and for the most part, they do a great job of embodying all the nerves and archetypes of an 8th grader. Some characters are very much forgotten about in favor of the lead roles, but for a film that is a very tight 80 minutes, that seems expected. The film ends on a decent note, yet its missing the glue that holds together other coming of age films. Everyone should have some form of resolution, regardless of how minute it is. And some of these characters simply don’t receive that treatment.
One very clever element of this film is how Roda circumvents the typical exposition that plagues slice of life films. Rather than shoehorn in certain topics that the writer wants discussed, Roda has a character read a newspaper, wherein the rest of the group then voice their opinions for the world to hear. While a small touch, it certainly works. And this is definitely something that adds to the overall authenticity of the film. Because this film doesn’t shove the fact that it’s an 80s film in your face, but rather, it just lets you simmer in it through the clothing and music choices.
18 To Party certainly nails a crucial element of the “slice of life” sub-genre in this regard. The characters open up to one another in a way that feels authentically written. With that, each tangent they go off on feels earned, so in this, Roda’s script certainly succeeds. It’s a bit frantic, and less cuts would make everything feel more organic, but the chemistry is certainly there, which could have made or broken this film.
Overall, this debut film from Roda is certainly harmless, and it fits nicely into the ever growing list of coming of age films that have a slice of life feel to them. Linklater is clearly an inspiration to Roda, and if his career is any indication, it’s that with some polish, Roda could definitely craft a hit in the years to come. Just as his characters display, life is all about waiting, and self discovery comes on its own. So with time, Roda’s filmmaking may blossom into something beautiful, but for now, all we can do as an audience is support an independent filmmaker early on in his career and hope for the best.
18 To Party is celebrating its premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival on October 4th, 2019.