‘Summering’ Movie Review | The young people

Promising on paper, Summary is a frustrating film on almost every level. I went in with high hopes, as would anyone who loved James Ponsoldt’s earlier modern classic of the coming-of-age genre, The spectacular now. In that and a handful of other independent films, Ponsoldt showed himself to be a sincere and skilled artist at capturing nuanced relationships, capturing situations that felt real and easy to get lost in and relate to. His previous films, The circle, felt like a misfire on multiple levels—focusing too much on confused expressions for big themes and not enough on character development, underusing a bigger budget and stars like Tom Hanks in the process. Unfortunately while Summary was clearly made for a much smaller sum and would seem like a more character-driven, down-to-earth project for such a promising director, it gives me no pleasure to report that it falls into many of the same topics.

Summary is a difficult film to summarize because of the convoluted way in which many of its central plot points come out. The film focuses primarily on a tight-knit group of four preteen girls on their last week of summer vacation before entering 6th grade—the introspective sort of protagonist Daisy (Lia Barnett), the spiritually minded Lola (Sanai Victoria), the academic Dina ( Madalen Mills), and nervous “prude” Mari (Eden Grace Redfield). The friends find a body while playing in the woods and decide to spend their last few days together investigating who the person was and how he got there. The various subplots loosely connected to this inciting incident explore the protagonists’ relationships with each other, their parents, and their anxieties about the future, from middle school to eventual adulthood.

The main problem here is confused writing and execution of concepts that sometimes come across as actively amateurish. The dialogue feels tinny and jarringly obvious, often stating themes so blatantly that the lines feel more like writer’s notes about what the filmmakers intended to convey, rather than actual words you’d hear in conversation. I don’t mind artificial sounding dialogue if it’s done with artistry or style, but a lot of the script here feels flat and imprecise, which makes it even more fake.

Several tonal shifts throughout the story also feel misguided, and subplots come across as half-assed. A scene where a girl’s cell phone ends up being destroyed is played for broad comedy, bookending between two more considered scenes in a way that left me in disbelief to say the least. There are many scenes throughout that attempt to delve into horror movie imagery, with a ghostly version of the central deceased MacGuffin haunting the characters, which feel all the more inexplicable due to a total lack of resolution. Some of these digressions feel like an attempt to anchor the story in a child’s point of view, where the imagination is overactive and the events often feel exaggerated. With stronger writing or a clearer overall vantage point for the story, it may have been conveyed better than the end result suggests.

The four main characters have been outlined in certain key details that emphasize how different they are from each other and how many different ways there are to develop at this time of life: for example, Mari is the least adventurous of the four girls, but the first to get a cell phone; Dina is “the smart one”, but also the most rebellious. Unfortunately, development proves inconsistent – ​​Daisy has no character traits beyond the familial dysfunction she experiences and the way she reacts to it, which proves frustrating when the film pivots to focus on her in the final act. So much effort has been put into her dramatic reactions and fake deep narrative, but she never feels like someone you might relate to or know the way the other characters sometimes do.

The most glaring problems emerge during the many long scenes where the girls are together on screen and have long conversations. Their lines feel stilted and the actors often seem uncomfortable delivering them. The blame for this must go to the direction on some level – all four leads do well in scenes with other characters such as their parents or siblings. One of the best scenes in the entire film is an early conversation between Mari and her mother, played by Megan Mullaly. The banter between the two feels specific, realistic and charming to watch; all of these qualities are sometimes intensely lacking from the film’s central friend group sequences.

Some awkwardness is of course natural when you’re 10 years old, but to me it never felt intentional or well-exploited, but more indicative of a lack of chemistry readings or practice time before filming began. Rarely are the main characters plausible or convincing in practice as a supposedly very close group of friends, and this is the aspect that most tested my patience throughout the film.

The question I keep asking myself is this: what is Summary trying to achieve and who is it really intended for? In some ways, it seems to try to recreate the mood of certain character-focused classics of children’s fiction, such as the works of EL Konigsberg or Beverly Cleary – books about children who have slightly exaggerated adventures but still ultimately face problems in the real life in their lives.

The more PG-13 elements of the film suggest that it may be an attempt to call back to a less sanitized era of children’s films – something I warmly welcome in theory, but it feels a little too self-insistent in practice (episodes where the leads visit a bar to look for clues and later recklessly brandish a gun feels rather forced and contrived). A rambling subplot involving the mothers of the four children looking for them made me wonder if this was really a film for nervous parents themselves, a stilted musing on how childhood experiences have changed and stayed the same , and the concern parents have about their children. grow up.

Perhaps it tries to be all of these things, in which case it ends up being a long-winded attempt that succeeds at very little. The cinematography is skillful and the mood on screen feels right given the title. In between, there are moments that suggest the authentic experience of being a certain age, running around the woods with your friends, and the melancholy feeling that comes with growth and change. A few scenes manage to charm and entertain, such as the aforementioned awkward exchange with Mullaly. Unfortunately, none of it is enough to recommend Summaryone of the most unfocused films of the year, and perhaps one of the least satisfying.

By the time a particular Taylor Swift song starts playing as the lead, there’s no sense of catharsis or growth, no sense that this is a whole journey we’ve been taken on as an audience. Questions have been raised, concerns have been expressed, and events have taken place, but the film never hangs together or feels complete. I still continue to root for James Ponsoldt to make exciting or profound films again; maybe he needs a more focused screenwriter next time.

Summary is out now in cinemas. See the trailer below.

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