Gravitas Ventures acquired the distribution rights of the film; they released the film theatrically and by video on demand on June 6, 2014. Millennium Entertainment will handle the DVD release of the film in late 2014.
In 1985, 13-year-old Rad Miracle goes on a summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland with his family. Experiencing lots of things first time, he finds a mentor for one of his obsessions, ping pong. There, he faces bullies, love, and hard decisions.
Director Michael Tully has said that the movie was inspired by growing up with 1980s Hollywood films, ping pong and sunny summer times in Ocean City, Maryland. With Ping Pong Summer he also wanted to pay tribute to those comedy filmmakers from the 1980s that took their time to craft heart-felt stories. Tully focused on breaking the "connect-the-dot" contemporary comedy by infusing personal experience and genuine characters. Tully grew up in Maryland, and he and his family vacationed at the resort where he shot the movie when he was an adolescent.
George Rush and Tully collaborated on the sale of Tully's last film, Septien. Rush had worked primarily as an entertainment lawyer, but took on the role of producer for Ping Pong Summer. Tully had been polishing the script since 1992 and was eager to make a movie so reminiscent of his childhood. The duo had a clear vision for the look and feel of the movie. They wanted to make a movie that truly captured the 1980s culture and felt like it was an old reel someone had found in a vault. Wyatt Garfield was instrumental in designing a specific look in the cinematography. Also, by casting generational icons like Susan Sarandon and Lea Thompson, they were able to pay homage to time periods that parents in the audience would be familiar with.
In the opening shots of the film, viewers see a boom box, Nike shoes, and a Run-D.M.C. tape, which, as NPR wrote, are "cultural markers that would clearly peg the film to a particular decade even without a subtitle further specifying the year: 1985."
The production opened up in Ocean City, Maryland. According to Tully the town was excellent at preserving the nostalgic feel of summer vacations. The local authorities and citizens were very cooperative with the filmmakers. To further capture the style of the movie, the entire picture was shot on Super 16 film stock. Tully felt very passionate about this choice and it was approved by Rush and the other producers.
The film was shot in Ocean City, Maryland, marking the first time since 1986 (Violets Are Blue) that a movie filmed in Ocean City went on to distribution (in the mid-1990s, locally raised documentary director John Chester shot an unreleased 16mm narrative feature there and on nearby Assateague Island).
Ping Pong Summer played at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival where it won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature Film.
Ping Pong Summer received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 55% of 29 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.7 out of 10.
Justin Lowe in his review for The Hollywood Reporter praised the film, saying that "Rose-tinted as the film's perspective may be, Ping Pong Summer is still a lingering, entertaining glance back at an era that Americans just can't seem to get enough of, whether in music or movies." Mark Adams of Screen International wrote that "Ping Pong Summer may well feel rather familiar, but there is a lot of good-natured and very accessible fun to be had about its tale of one 13-year-old's dream of glory on the table tennis table." Chris Michael, in his review for The Guardian, said "It's gawky and awkward, but just like Rad's breakdancing worm, this one gets better as it goes along."
NPR was less positive, with reviewer Tomas Hachard calling the film "a sometimes intriguing experiment in upended expectations, though not a particularly successful one," that was largely lacking "coherent purpose". Calum Marsh of Film.com criticized Ping Pong Summer as "a cool ninety minutes of vapid 80s fetishism packaged to resemble a proper feature film" that was "resoundingly pointless". Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times focused criticism on the "limp hero" and "lifeless plot", arguing that the positive qualities of the film did not "excuse characters that are little more than props for embarrassing fashion or delivery systems for dated slang." Ann Hornaday at The Washington Post argued that "its relatively uninvolving story, starchily directed by Tully and given little zing by an uneven cast, makes 'Ping Pong Summer'" an "okay-not-great" film.