This is a phrase I jokingly use probably much more than I should, but I think I rely on it because it so perfectly exemplifies my mindset when it comes to moving ‘outside the box’ with some coverage choices I make for SciFiHistory.Net. Like anyone who writes, I occasionally like to sound off on something that may not be directly Science Fiction or Fantasy or Horror related – as when I do with noirish flicks from time-to-time – and why shouldn’t I use my very own little empire to do so? I have the space. I know how to use it. And it isn’t like I’m going to offend myself! So, yes, it’s good to be king!
That’s why I’m taking this opportunity today to write about 5-25-77.
In case you haven’t heard of the flick, 5-25-77 is the story of one young budding storyteller’s unusual connection back to George Lucas’s original Star Wars film. (Yes, yes, yes, I know it’s now called “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” but it wasn’t back then, and that’s why I’m diverging.) Autobiographical in nature, it clearly is not SciFi or Fantasy, but because it ties in centrally with a pop culture phenomenon that began on that day back in 1977 and continues to this day, I figure it’s damn near close enough that fans of the franchise wouldn’t mind knowing my two cents on the picture.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Alienated film-maker hopeful Pat Johnson’s epic story of growing up in rural Illinois, falling in love and becoming the first fan of the movie that changed everything.”
While some may not feel it entirely germane to understand going into writer/director Patrick Read Johnson’s seminal 5-25-77 that this was a labor of love filmed over the course of a decade and one-half, I’d argue that I think it helps best position the importance of its subject matter to the storyteller. Like so many creatives of his era, Johnson was heavily influenced by the original Star Wars (1977), so much so that the man’s narrative autobiography ties directly back to those days of his youth. To give it the proper reverence, he’s fashioned this story to kinda/sorta parallel that trajectory – to explore how precisely his life changed leading up to his first viewing of the film and beyond – and it’s equally moving as it is insightful about the teenage experience … at least, that’s from the geek’s perspective … of which I consider myself, too.
John Francis Daley plays a pitch perfect young version of Johnson. It’s easy to see that the young man is interpreting the memories of the elder filmmaker, and their collaboration here in bringing these experiences to life is no doubt the flick’s greatest asset. Daley imbues the teenager with the kind of youthful exuberance many of us likely dealt with at that age; and he rather effortlessly communicates the naiveté that leads to so very many bad (or inferior) decisions made on this journey (like snubbing Steven Spielberg). Johnson clearly accomplished what he did with the Herculean enthusiasm known only to those who see the world as it is with the intent to change its shape, so it’s only perfectly natural for him to find himself in dire straits when nothing quite goes according to plan.
Still, as much as I could both enjoy 5-25-77 and relate to its sometimes-cautionary madness, I’d argue that this particular cut feels overly self-involved and simply too long.
There is a wealth of material that serves as a build-up to those elements most involved with Star Wars; and – as a consequence – it sometimes feels like there are two separate stories at work … and they don’t seamlessly combine. Some of the ‘coming of age’ stuff could’ve honestly been sacrificed (there are several subplots involving Johnson’s troop of friends, and not all of it was relevant in my estimation), allowing what remained of the material to flow together more easily. For example, there’s an ongoing comic bit involving our lead taking a hit to the stomach from the school jock, and it wears out its welcome probably after the first time it was tried. But perhaps Johnson’s closeness to his own life experience distracted him from the core plot … or maybe, like Star Wars, he was thinking of a trilogy?
The Force is strong with this one, true … but it could’ve been much, much stronger.
- An audio commentary with Johnson;
- The Q&A from the 2013 Fantasia Film Festival, also with Johnson;
- A gallery of theatrical trailers; and
- Photo galleries.
While I’ll admit to some disappointment with Johnson’s obvious desire to give damn near each and every element of his youthful existence a kind of Kubrickian significance, I still had a lot of fun with 5-25-77. Its characters are, perhaps, as accurate a depiction of Illinois teens and tweens I’ve seen – I’m from there – and they’re very close to those shown in the great John Hughes flicks (but with less comic energy). These are real ‘salt of the Earth’ kinda folks, and it shows, though with a bit of forced movie magic. If anything, I’d argue that there’s probably a near-genius cut of this material – something reasonably shorter than the kinda/sorta bloated 132 minutes – but this take is not it. Who knows? Perhaps Johnson – as the represented lead and the storyteller – needed another pair of eyes in the editing suite to tighten up the pace where this one just gets too … erm … spatial?
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MVD Visual provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of 5-25-77 (2022) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.