Snack Shack Echoes the Spirit of R-Rated Teen Movies

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures.

Following in the footsteps of popular and culturally celebrated films such as American Pie (1999), Superbad (2007), and Project X (2012), Adam Rehmeier’s 2024 film Snack Shack is a humorous coming-of-age story set in a 1990s Nebraskan suburb. The film is based on Rehmeier’s actual teenage experiences and summer shenanigans in a pre-cellphone era. As shared by Rehmeier:

Everyone has the summer that was crucial to their own coming-of-age story. Mine was ’91, right in this beautiful post-Desert Storm, pre-Nevermind sweet spot, where kids were still very autonomous and free-range in the summer.”

Rehmeier’s previous feature film was the punk indie dramedy Dinner in America (2012). Following a typical formula for teen comedies, Snack Shack centers on Conor Sherry’s A.J. and Gabriel LaBelle of The Fabelmans fame as his rambunctious best friend, Moose, who resort to working at their local community pool’s Snack Shack after their get-rich-quick schemes fall by the wayside. Their friendship and summer plans are ultimately tested when the cool and adventurous older girl, Brooke (Mika Abdalla of Sex Appeal), comes between them. The burgeoning relationship between Brooke and A.J. is sweet, and A.J. goes through his first heartbreak, a defining element of coming-of-age movies. A notable strength of the movie is the chemistry between the talented Sherry and LaBelle whose frenetic vivaciousness bounces off each other seamlessly and there isn’t a dry moment between the pair.

Moose and A.J. are full of smiles from their Snack Shack success.
Gabriel LaBelle and Conor Sherry in Snack Shack (2024). Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Taking a step back from the beer-fueled haze and non-stop parties that occupy the film’s run-time, the most intriguing relationship is between Shane (Silk Road‘s Nick Robinson) and A.J. Shane is a vet who served in the Gulf War (which ended a few months before this film takes place) and plays a crucial part in A.J.’s life and forming his worldview. Shane acts as a big brother figure and mentor to A.J. so when a horrific tragedy strikes, A.J. must succumb to the pain and uncertainty that can happen without notice. The timing of the tragedy comes too late into Snack Shack, and if it had occurred earlier, showing how deeply the loss affects A.J. and the community, could have had more of a dramatic impact. Savoring every memory and small moment becomes an underlying message of Rehmeier’s film.

While LaBelle taps into the craziness of Moose perfectly, Sherry brings a subtle gentleness and intuitiveness to A.J. that is incredibly nuanced. The performances by Abdalla and Robinson are worth mentioning, meshing together wonderfully with LaBelle and Sherry. R-rated teen comedies are a dime a dozen these days. Snack Shack isn’t overtly sentimental about the ‘90s and has a fizzy, colorful retro energy to the production design and costumes. The soundtrack is also great, with classic songs charging the beer-fueled chaos of A.J. and Moose’s exploration of being wild and frequent partygoing.

Lifeguard Brooke wears a bright red bathing suit and meets A.J. for the first time at the poolside Snack Shack.
Mika Abdalla as Brooke in Snack Shack (2024). Photo credit: Paramount Pictures.

As 14-year-olds, A.J. and Moose’s responses to something as life-altering as death are quite believable. However, Rehmeier could have decided to spend more time with these characters as they navigate a tragic event instead of recreating countless scenes of A.J. and Moose being reckless and rowdy which comprises a significant amount of Snack Shack. Rehmeier’s screenplay illustrates his talent and penchant for identifying all the messiness of being human, yet focusing on the tangible aspects of what summer feels like through cinematography seems as if he was too preoccupied with capturing his youthful memories instead of creating a movie with a definable structure. 

Rehmeier’s movie doesn’t bring anything fresh to this genre, but imbues a lot of heart and laughs, despite its uneven tone. Snack Shack certainly harkens back to the warm, nostalgic blanket of Richard Linklater’s iconic snapshot of 1976 American teendom (and boredom) in Dazed and Confused, with a bittersweet resonance that lingers but doesn’t necessarily pack a meaningful punch. 

Written by Lilli Keeve

Lilli has had a passion for movies her entire life. She has a BS in Film Studies with an emphasis in Film Analysis and Theory from Portland State University in the beautiful downtown Portland, Oregon. Lilli has an AA degree in English from West Los Angeles College in Culver City, CA, known as the Heart of Screenland.

She has also done freelance writing for Looper, Pinnacle Magazine, and Film Daily and has her own film review blog. When she’s not rewatching her favorite films or searching for a new TV show to binge, she’s reading or taking photographs.

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