Netflix: Slam

Photo by Fabio Zayed - Maila Iacovelli/Sp

Netflix’s ‘Slam’ is a charming, funny portrayal of teen romance—and the perils thereof

'Slam' is funny, heartfelt, and effortlessly charming. It’s one of the best Netflix original films.

 

David Wharton

Streaming

Published Apr 17, 2017   Updated Apr 17, 2017, 1:21 am CDT

In stunning Netflix original film Slam, Samuel (Ludovico Tersigni) is a typical teenager. He spends his time dreaming about traveling to California, obsessing about skateboarding, and being awkward in the presence of girls. His idol is Tony Hawk, whom he sees almost a father figure in light of his own biological dad’s inadequacies. When he falls hard for Alice (Barbara Ramella), he even sees parallels to one of Hawk’s own early romances. But when Alice becomes pregnant, Samuel sees all those future dreams hanging by a thread, and he must decide if he’s ready for fatherhood, or if he’ll repeat the same mistakes his father did with him.

Slam is based on the 2007 novel by lad-lit phenom Nick Hornby, directed by Andrea Molaioli and adapted for the screen by Molaioli and Italian screenwriters Francesco Bruni and Ludovica Rampoldi. Their script moves the action from London to Italy, but stays true to the core story of Samuel, Alicia, and their family members dealing with the unexpected pregnancy. For Samuel, it feels like he’s living out a family curse—his own mother had him at 16, so he’s grown up hearing her cautionary tales about how teenage indiscretion derailed her young life, at least for a little while.

The film also carries over several structural conceits from Hornby’s novel, both of which set Slam apart from similar tales we’ve seen before. First is the constant presence of professional skateboarder Tony Hawk. We won’t spoil the surprise as to whether Hawk ever puts in a personal appearance, but his influence looms over Samuel from start to finish. Samuel constantly reads from a dog-eared copy of Hawk’s autobiography, drawing numerous parallels to his own life and looking to Hawk’s voice on the page for advice and guidance. This connection becomes all too real when Hawk’s own early pregnancy is suddenly echoed in Samuel’s life… except, as Sam puts it, Hawk could actually afford to be a dad by the time he was one.

Even more interesting are Slam’s flash forwards, to borrow some Lost parlance. After he learns that Alice is both pregnant and planning to keep the baby, Samuel keeps experiencing vivid dreams where he imagines what his sideswiped life will be like in the months and years to come. However, Samuel is still very much his present-day self during these leaps forward. He finds himself confused about his situation, just trying to catch up and figure out answers to basic questions such as, “Why did we name my son Ufo?” (Other than as an excuse for one of the film’s best visual throwaway gags.) That sense of self-awareness, and the fact that Samuel later lives out very similar versions of those events in real life, definitely give the film a magical realist quality that provides both humor and variety from the standard teen pregnancy movie beats.

The cast is a consistent delight, starting with young stars Tersigni and Ramella. They’ve got a strong but believable chemistry, just the right mix of budding romance and fumbling teenage awkwardness. Nor do they disappoint once the metaphorical honeymoon is over and the pair find themselves dealing with very adult problems that neither of them are ready for. The supporting cast is also strong, especially Jasmine Trinca as Samuel’s mother. Given how young she still is, the two have a unique relationship because she remembers very well being where Samuel is now… even before those similarities become quite so overt.

Trinca’s performance once she finds out about Samuel’s situation also highlights some of the strengths of the script. Time and again, Slam avoids taking the obvious or cliched path with its characters, instead presenting what feels like a much more genuine version of this story. Sam’s mother is, of course, upset at first that her son is repeating her mistakes. But that passes quickly, and she moves on to supporting his decisions and trying to reassure him that he can weather the storm better than she did.

Nobody in Slam is made into a villain simply for plot convenience’s sake. Alice’s parents are also upset at first, but there are no cartoonish threats of retribution or ultimatums. They respect their daughter’s decision to keep the kid, even if they don’t agree at first. Everything is nuanced, honest shades of gray in Slam, and that’s hugely refreshing. It feels much more true to life than many versions of this story we’ve seen play out in movies.

Slam is funny, heartfelt, and effortlessly charming. It’s easily one of the best Netflix original films to cross this reviewer’s plate thus far.

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*First Published: Apr 17, 2017, 6:00 am CDT