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'Snack Shack' Review

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March 22, 2024
Tyler Banark
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My fellow Nebraskans and Midwesterners, we have a big-name movie set and shot entirely in Nebraska for the first time in years. If you’re reading this and don’t understand the significance, Nebraska is a state that NEVER gets the Hollywood spotlight. When it does, it usually showcases only farmland, cornfields, and the nature of the panhandle/western part of the state. The only times Nebraska has been seen in a light where that’s not the case is in Alexander Payne’s filmography (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Nebraska). With Snack Shack, director Adam Carter Rehmeier crafts a love letter to his hometown of Nebraska City, a small town with roughly 7200 people. It’s a delightful treat, as Snack Shack doesn’t focus on the cliches Hollywood created for the Cornhusker State. Instead, it’s a simple teen comedy with the small town as the backdrop and a great heart. 

It’s 1991, and we meet our two leads, AJ (newcomer Conor Sherry) and Moose (Gabriel Labelle, in his follow-up role to The Fabelmans), who are skipping their school field trip to the Omaha Zoo to bet on dog racing. These ambitious fifteen-year-olds want nothing more than to make a buck without doing any hard work. AJ’s strict parents catch wind of their rendezvous, and he’s forced to find a real job for the summer. While the two seek a job, their much older friend Shane (Nick Robinson) suggests buying the pool’s snack shack from the city. The two do it, and the shack becomes a hit as kids of all ages pay them hand over fist to get whatever they desire. Meanwhile, they both vie over Brooke (Mika Abdalla), a new lifeguard at the pool that puts their friendship to the test

Rehmeier penned the script and does so flawlessly, taking the tropes of the coming-of-age teen comedy and applying them to his own methods. AJ and Moose are ambitious boys who are similar to the likes of duos we’ve seen in the past from the genre (i.e., Evan and Seth from Superbad, Ferris and Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). They try to scheme something big despite being in their early teens and do everything from making/selling their own beer to painting house numbers on curbs. One, in this case, Moose, can be seen as a bad influence while the other is playing along despite his parent's disapproval. 

It helps that Sherry and Labelle’s chemistry is fun and quick-witted, with comedic timings balancing each other out. Sherry brings a welcoming introduction as he fits the role of AJ perfectly. He doesn’t go overboard or play it safe; instead, he interprets the character to his own persona. AJ’s a dorky kid, and whenever he talks to Brooke, he tries to play it cool simply to impress. Luckily, Brooke finds him cute, and they build something together. On the other hand, Labelle continues to prove why The Fabelmans wasn’t a one-and-done situation. I feared he may not have much of a career after the 2022 hit, but I was proven wrong. Moose is the brains of the duo, but he often gets carried away in their plans to the point where he bosses AJ around. He can often be unlikable, and Labelle ensures that audiences feel that way whenever he does wrong by AJ. His train looks to keep going at full speed as he’s got another big project on the horizon in Jason Reitman’s SNL 1975, which has become my most anticipated movie ever since Barbenheimer.

The rest of the ensemble is fun to see on screen with Sherry and Labelle. Nick Robinson’s Shane is the big brother figure to AJ, and he nails the role. There’s a scene where AJ and Shane eat runzas at a lake when Shane gives AJ the best advice on handling Brooke and Moose. David Costabile and Gillian Vigman play AJ’s parents and are surprisingly funny whenever they scold the boys. Mika Abdalla as Brooke is also a great turn as she casually jokes around with AJ before their relationship blossoms into something more. Some viewers may see her character as one-dimensional or kind of a bland love interest. Yet, Brooke comes off as a love interest who initially intends to build a friendship with AJ, and the sparks fly when they spend time together.

Rehmeier paints Nebraska summers just like how I remember them as a teenager. The plot of Snack Shack could have taken place anywhere, but he chose Nebraska City, which was a solid choice. At no point does Snack Shack present what moviegoers expect to see in a movie set in Nebraska, and it’s so satisfying that filmmakers understand that there’s more to the state than rural areas. Although Nebraska City is nowhere near as big as Omaha, it’s a neighborly town where you won’t need cornfields and farms if you find the right places. It also helps that cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier captures little idiosyncrasies that encapsulate a Nebraska summer, most notably whenever there’s a shot of a street at dusk with the streetlights starting to turn on. 

Bernier showcases the humid atmosphere of hot summer nights and how one would want just to stand outside and take it in wherever they are. Whether our characters are at a party, having a cookout, or going for a swim, it’s a refreshing sight to see. Above all, it’s a comforting feeling that only natives would understand, and those unfamiliar need to experience it to understand. Bernier also has some long takes in certain scenes, which looked great, but it made me wish it was done more often. If Snack Shack falters in any other way, it tends to milk a joke too far. When AJ and Moose open the shack, they sell candy, soda, and hot dogs. However, AJ gets the idea to write an obscene word on the hot dogs and charge 75 extra cents. Once the joke is introduced, it recurs numerous times, and by the time the film is over, it’s not as funny. 

Despite the humor wearing off, Snack Shack is still a fun teen comedy posing as a love letter to the small-town Nebraska that’s never seen on screen. Thanks to Sherry and Labelle's leadership and a solid script, Rehmeier knew precisely what he was going for and accomplished it satisfactorily. There’s no denying Sherry and Labelle’s fun banter and quick reactions with each other and their costars. I can guarantee these two are set for a bright future in Hollywood, especially Labelle, who has nowhere to go but up. As for Rehmeier, he made a statement for himself and the state of Nebraska. In time, I hope to see Hollywood starting to see more of Nebraska than they’ve presumed, and Snack Shack was the first step in the right direction toward getting there.

You can follow Tyler and hear more of his thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd.

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