Coming-of-age tales usually involve soaring emotional turns and poignant life lessons, but Emily Hagins’ “Grow Up, Tony Phillips” is a charming story about realistic, low-key teenagers growing up in a much less dramatic fashion. Hagins' frequent collaborator Tony Vespe stars as Tony Phillips, a 18-year-old who still looks forward to Halloween with as much excitement as he did in childhood.
Writer and director Emily Hagins packs some genuine truths about how high school can dissolve the most intense friendships, and the film’s characters look and act like actual adolescents. Vespe has starred in three of Hagins’ four films, and it’s great to see him in the spotlight here. He brings effortless charm to Tony Phillips, turning an inherently immature character into a relatable, geeky teenager who is unafraid to be passionate about his favorite holiday.
While there are a few moments where the storytelling strains in “Grow Up, Tony Phillips,” the film coasts on its easy likability and fun performances. From fellow up-and-comers like Katie Folger and Caleb Barwick to seasoned performers like A.J. Bowen, every performance in the film is in tune with Hagins’ direction. The film is her best work yet, and an entertaining and touching coming-of-age tale.