Loevner and Kanter’s new romantic dramedy asks audiences if they plateau or keep rising when they hit “Peak Season.” [SXSW]

What is best in life? For some, it’s the ability to travel, to wear fine clothes, and eat exotic dishes. For others, to achieve greatness either professionally or personally. If one considers the ideas within filmmaking team Henry Loevner and Steven Kanter’s (The End of Us) new film, Peak Season, having its world premiere at SXSW 2023, then one may walk away thinking that “best” is defined by the ability to live exactly as one pleases. To be fair, being able to do that is essentially the same as others (travel; clothes; food; achievements), just from a different perspective. This shifted view seems less rich, less elite, less opulent when it’s more likely to be personally fulfilling and enriching. Set within the beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Peak Season (with a script from Loevner) examines what’s best in life and where the schism between want and need exists.


L-R: Derrick DeBlasis as Loren and Claudia Restrepo as Amy in PEAK SEASON. Photo courtesy of SXSW.

There are those who come to Jackson Hole temporarily, looking to take in the wonders of nature or take in the area-specific food and entertainment. These people often possess a certain affluence, a side effect being that not everyone who lives there can afford it. Loren (Derrick DeBlasis) is one of the latter, working many jobs from dish-washer to private instructor in all things nature-related just so he can call Jackson Hole home. It’s lonely at times, but he loves it. Then there’s Amy (Claudia Restrepo), on vacation with her fiancée Max (Ben Coleman), hoping to both get some quality time with him and recover from burnout. But when a crisis at work continually snatches Max’s attention, Amy ends up going to meet Loren for a fly-fishing lesson alone, the two discovering that their world views have far more in common than expected.

Loevner and Kanter brought their COVID-19 breakup comedy The End of Us, starring Coleman and DeBlasis with Restrepo producing, to SXSW 2021. Given the state of the world then, many filmmakers turned into the struggle of making art by incorporating the pandemic into their work, often with mixed results. Due to their grounded approach, however, The End of Us ends up skirting a lot of the issues and discomforts of pandemic-related stories, sending the audience on a sweet and endearing journey of interpersonal reclamation. Peak Season is a natural extension of that story, continuing the exploration of personal need, companionship, and the desire to be the best version of one’s self. The script by Loevner is tighter, making great use of every moment of the 80-minute runtime, neither pushing things to unnecessary dramatics or under-interrogating the concepts in the film. The direction from their combined efforts is also different, more engaging and natural; though I suspect this may be as much due to the greater handle on COVID-19 during the shoot and the ability to move to more locations as it is the fact that they’ve learned new approaches since their last project. Whatever the reason, the cinematography and editing (also by the filmmaking duo) is gorgeous, making great use of the locations to capture its natural beauty and feeling of freedom against the sense of constriction that Amy feels in her life. Combined with the editing, there are several scenes which pack a great deal of punch, from implying Max’s preference for appearances to the smallness of humankind in comparison to nature.


L-R: Claudia Restrepo as Amy and Derrick DeBlasis as Loren in PEAK SEASON. Photo courtesy of Henry Loevner’s website.

A particular strength of Peak Season is that there’re no clichéd moments, a task that many romantic dramedies fail to achieve, with even the most original aspects somehow finding themselves gilding the lily instead of treating the characters as people. The characters don’t give big speeches or make grand declarations. In fact, there’s a sparseness to the dialogue that’s not only refreshing, it requires the audience to lean in to the performances to really get what’s going on between all the characters. Much of this is achieved through the rawness of DeBlasis’s and Restrepo’s performances, where even the silence between them feels pregnant with anticipation, connection, and unspoken desire. This appears to be Restrepo’s first feature and it’s a heck of a performance, shaping a character whose struggle determining what she wants in life is not defined by the person in her life or what they want. Restrepo makes Amy a full person who, though lost in a transitionary period, is not so disoriented as to have lost herself. Though Amy is treated in the official synopsis as the center of the story, our way in is really Loren. DeBlasis, coming off playing the worst kind of film bro in The End of Us, gets to play a bit more, showing charm and grace in one moment, trying not to rage (albeit quietly) against the world in another. Much like Restrepo enables the audience to fully see Amy’s perspective, DeBlasis accomplishes the same with Loren so that the audience doesn’t mistake him as somehow lesser than the rich class that live in Jackson Hole, the same class that Amy is about to marry into. That the script never once looks down on Loren or Amy, preferring instead to make Max and the people like him the source of jokes, speaks perspective regarding the value of the life Loevner and Kanter possess. Punching up at the wealthy is not always easier, but it is right.

This is, to my taste, the strongest aspect of the film and where it uses subtext beautifully. When we first meet Loren, he’s sleeping in his car versus Amy, who’s getting off a plane to meet Max. Loren is late to a fly-fishing instruction with a big-wig looking to get away from it all while Amy is on time to go to Max’s uncle’s place that includes a wine cellar, housekeeping, and other accoutrements of status. Loren talks to everyone equally, whereas Amy is the only one of the two to talk with the housekeeper (a lovely note being that they speak Spanish and we’re not given subtitles — the audience doesn’t need to know what they’re saying specifically, only that Amy doesn’t see herself as above being human). There are multiple moments throughout the film in which the script could look down on Loren for his choices, except it doesn’t. His life may be minimal and sometimes lonely, but it’s not empty. By comparison, no one other than Loren seems to listen to Amy, pushing their views, their agendas onto her, even her fiancée. (To his credit, Coleman plays a great red flag-waving chode (as Max would say) and he manages to allow that to not be Max’s only trait.) Through the relationship that grows between Loren and Amy, there’s an interesting exploration of what is best in life, what someone wants — nay, needs — out of life and how not compromising that is healthy. Personally, I do wish there was a little bit more text in comparing the two economic classes, as well as making clearer some climax-related ambiguity, but, overall, this is a heck of a return to SXSW.

Peak Season creators - Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner Interview

PEAK SEASON filmmakers: Henry Loevner and Steven Kanter.

For a sophomore feature outing, Peak Season demonstrates that the filmmaking duo have more to say about life and love, taking the things that they’ve learned and utilizing them well. It doesn’t hurt that they have, in Claudia Restrepo, a remarkable co-lead whose charm and ease on screen make us want to see more from both the performer and the character she plays. If the first is an exploration of what love means when it ends, then Peak Season is a film exploring the surprising crossroads we may find ourselves in. Sometimes it’s the result of our own choices, sometimes it’s just something that happens. But what we do when we reach the crossroads matters. Do we hit the peak and plateau or do we keep rising? That’s up to each to decide for themselves.

For more information on Peak Season, make sure to check out the interview between Peak Season filmmakers Henry Loevner and Steven Kanter and EoM senior interviewer Thomas Manning.

Screening during SXSW 2023.

For more information, head to the official SXSW Peak Season webpage.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

SXSW 2023

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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