Summering (Review) – How Not To Make A Coming-Of-Age Movie

DIRECTOR: James Ponsoldt

CAST: Lia Barnett, Madalen Mills, Eden Grace Redfield, Sanai Victoria, Megan Mullally, Lake Bell, Ashley Madekwe, Sarah Cooper, Dale McKeel, Willow Corner-Bettweiser

RUNNING TIME: 87 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Four young friends set out to make the most of their last weekend of summer…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

When you think of classic coming-of-age movies, your mind probably goes to films like Stand By Me, The Goonies, The Sandlot, or countless others, and those are reasonable examples – the thing is, a lot of those movies often tend to be more about boys’ childhoods rather than girls’, leaving the latter without a definitive screen representation of what it is to be a young girl on the cusp of growing up. In that sense, it’s easy to identify the intentions behind director and co-writer James Ponsoldt’s Summering, which is clearly to even the playing field somewhat and allow girls, rather than boys, the chance to have their own adolescent adventure to rival those earlier examples.

The thing is, though, neither Ponsoldt nor co-writer Benjamin Percy have any idea how to write an actual coming-of-age story, or even the kind of kid characters who often occupy them. However, their fundamental lack of understanding in that department is only part of what makes Summering a mesmerizingly baffling misfire, the kind that you’re so fascinated by that it almost makes you curious as to what led these filmmakers to screw up a well-intentioned project so badly.

Summering takes place – when else? – during the last weekend of summer, as four young friends Daisy (Lia Barnett), Dina (Madalen Mills), Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) and Lola (Sanai Victoria) hope to make the most of their limited time left together, before they all start at separate schools. Their days, it seems, are spent playing make-believe, running through the suburbs, and heading to a special tree dubbed “Terabithia” in the woods, which they have decorated with several items like shoes and bracelets. It is on a trip to this location that the girls come across an unexpected sight: a dead body, having apparently jumped from a nearby bridge. Rather than call the authorities, though, the girls elect to hide the corpse, and much of the rest of the film is them going around town finding clues as to who he might have been, like some sort of weird treasure hunt game.

One of the first things you might have noticed is that Ponsoldt and Percy’s script is undoubtedly aping an extortionate amount of coming-of-age movies that are far better than this one. Beyond the obvious central use of the Stand By Me formula, from its central group of kid protagonists to the dead body serving as the MacGuffin, Summering is almost entirely comprised of every single stale coming-of-age trope you can imagine: emotionally distant parents, one of whom we of course first see sleeping in a chair by the TV with empty bottles lying around; sequences where the young kids break into their own school; symbolic shots of leaves falling from trees to represent the dying days of these girls’ summer; among many, many others. It is almost necessary for the script to borrow so heavily from its predecessors, though, to make up for the fact that it really has no identity or personality of its own, nor even a clue as to what genre it’s supposed to be. Things will be light-hearted and playful one moment, with jokes and dialogue you would find in a lame sitcom, and then the next it literally becomes a supernatural horror as these girls keep seeing creepy ghostly visions of the dead body stalking them like Freddy Krueger. To say that it’s tonally all over the place is an understatement, which Ponsoldt’s flat direction seems unable to control within an inconsequential narrative that barely feels like it’s even begun before the ending credits suddenly pop up.

Ponsoldt and Percy – both, incidentally, men that are well into their 40s – are also insanely out of touch with how to actually write children that exist in this day and age, which makes the film even stranger to sit through. Nothing about how these girls act is at all what any kid under the age of twelve would realistically say or do, whether it’s causally dropping words like “patriarchal” into conversations as though they know exactly what it means, or making decisions that not even the most ignorant and unassuming of children would actively choose to make. The dry and overly dense dialogue always makes this script feel like it was written by adults who did little to no research into how kids in the modern era actually talked to one another, but instead took perhaps too many liberties from coming-of-age films of the 1980s when kids speaking and doing adult things was a bit more commonplace. However, this script still wouldn’t have worked even if it was written and produced back then, because unlike films such as Stand By Me where you really got to know each of the kids individually to where you really cared about them and understood their relationships with each other, you never connect with these girls because the actors have not an ounce of chemistry between them, and they are each directed to be so monotonous in their deliveries that they barely even feel like characters and more like young performers awkwardly reciting dialogue that is way too advanced for them.

Ultimately, you’re left with a poorly written mess of a coming-of-age movie, with a badly defined narrative that goes nowhere, and an even worse set of characters who you never believe exist outside of the bizarre reality that Ponsoldt and Percy have concocted. It almost feels like you’re watching a first draft script, where the ideas are in place but are rarely ever developed, and where at least a few more rewrites are required to actually flesh everything out to an appropriate level for the consumption of its general audience. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to have passed on the memo to these writers that significant alterations needed to be made to their script, and as a result they ended up making a film that feels undercooked to where it’s practically still raw, which at times you can’t believe was deemed passable enough to be sent out in its current state.

The intentions were certainly noble, as once again its purpose is to basically give girls their own version of something like Stand By Me – but what they ended up with was far more of a dead body than they ever could have realised.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Summering is a bizarre failure that nobly sets out to deliver a coming-of-age film with and for young girls, but the wildly undercooked script, flat direction, and the chemistry-free performances significantly hinders its potential and makes it a formidable example of how not to make a coming-of-age movie.

Summering will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 2nd December 2022 – click here to find a screening near you!

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