Summering is part mystery, part children’s movie, and part mess. Writer-director James Ponsoldt (The Circle) makes one of the shortest feature films of the year feel like a drag. The acting misses the mark from start to finish, and aside from the opening shot, there’s nothing special about the set or cinematography. On paper, the film appears to be a standard indie drama within an Amblin adventure film. And at points, Summering feels like an atmospheric film built on tone and feel rather than narrative structure. The end product is a movie that can’t decide what it wants to be.
Summering (2022): Movie Review
Dina (Madalen Mills), Daisy (Lia Barnett), Mari (Eden Grace Redfield), and Lola (Sanai Victoria) are all wrapped up in the transition between elementary school and high school. The girls are determined to enjoy one last summer of innocence before their lives and their world are changed forever. And their world changes when they come across a corpse in the woods.
Mari wants to call the cops, Daisy is indifferent, and Dina and Lola want to know more before doing anything else. The girls agree to investigate the man’s death and see what clues they can find around town. Before long, they realize that the journey is more important than the destination and they are bound together forever.
Viewers may think Ponsoldt jumped onto the scene with The Spectacular Now. His feature debut, however, was the well-received 2006 drama Off The Black, a gritty, Nick Nolte-led story about a man who wants his son to impersonate him in a school club. Both films capture the disillusionment of youth in very different but effective ways.
Ponsoldt has a knack for framing youth as a passing time without ever having to explain it. Even in films like The End Of The Tour, the director finds narrative means to engage the audience in what can be someone’s time spent and time lost in their life. Sadly, Summering is the most literal and boring version of Ponsoldt’s turn, and the Sundance selection fails at every turn.
Ponsoldt co-wrote the screenplay with Benjamin Percy (Old Man Star-Lord), and the two present a story that tries to be several kinds of movies and succeeds in being none of them. The film’s uneven drama is a byproduct of how fragmented the genre and tone are. Summertime isn’t funny, heartfelt, scary, or introspective; yet he wants to be all these things at once. The opening scene of the film is surprisingly promising, featuring a beautiful slow-motion shot that bursts with color. Then the confusing and generic voice-over starts confusing the whole movie.
Performances are the kiss of death for summer. Already burdened with an abysmal script, asking four child actors to save the story is a tall order. The adult cast doesn’t help much either, apart from a solid turn from Lake Bell (How To Make It In America).
Viewers may recognize Madalen Mills from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Story, the Netflix holiday musical, but she and the rest of her young cast deliver consistently flat dialogue. The film is mainly aimed at children. When they’re not, their moms get the rest of the screen time and are charming but never great. None of the performances stand out.
Summering weaves through each act, changing its pace and tone seemingly at whim. Although Ponsoldt has The Spectacular Now and The End Of The Tour under his belt, Summering falls short even of his perceived failures such as The Circle. The screenplay lacks any focus and the cinematography, while graceful at times, does not compensate for the film’s shortcomings.
With no other part of the filmmaking process holding them back, the performers are doomed from the start. Summering is a slow and ultimately boring mystery that does little to portray youth in a meaningful way.
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