Holy crap. I love Halloween. Come to think of it, the vast majority of people I know are unapologetic superfans of 10/31. (See also: the entire month of October.) And while Grow Up, Tony Phillips is the very relatable (what do you mean blood dripping taper candles are seasonal?) tale of a teen’s relationship with All Hallows’ Eve, it’s just as much about the often difficult task of staying true to oneself.
17 year old Tony Phillips loves Halloween. His friends… not so much. They, along with his mom, encourage him to just give the sacred day up. He’s too old. It’s dorky. Upperclassmen don’t wear costumes. Will Tony bend to the pressures of those around him? Will he give up what he loves so fiercely just to “fit in”? Will we squeal with delight during 75% of the film’s run time? (That last one was sort of lazy rhetorical foreshadowing.)
At its core, GU,TP is an unabashedly earnest look at growing up. It lacks the cynicism that so often permeates modern coming of age stories. This perfect storm of tone and content result in an intensely accessible film that will appeal to a wide and varied audience. During the film’s Q&A, writer/director Emily Hagins expressed a desire to make a movie that more closely reflected her high school experience. One thing’s for sure, she’s most definitely successful in creating a believable world that’s cohesive, genuine, and brimming with emotion.
AJ Bowen is a scene stealer. But then again, so are Tony Vespe (the titular Phillips) and Byron Brown. It’s clear every cast member is on board 110% and having a blast with the material. The dedicated performances bring what are already charming characters to life.
The fact that GU,TP is sweet and lovely isn’t really a surprise. But its universal truths and poignant themes are an added bonus that only further elevate the film. Hagins and company nailed it.