REVIEW: Summering [2022]

Rating: 3 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 87 minutes
    Release Date: August 12th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Bleecker Street Media
    Director(s): James Ponsoldt
    Writer(s): Benjamin Percy & James Ponsoldt

This is our body.

It used to be that going to see the dead body was the adventure. Now we have a need to figure out why the body is dead. There’s probably something in this contrast that speaks to the evolutionary shift in technology, adolescent maturity, and genre envelope-pushing that occurred between Stand By Me in 1986 and Summering in 2022, but the latter isn’t necessarily interested in the differences as much as it is in pretending differences don’t exist. The world has changed while our children’s comprehension of its uncertainty has increased. Seeing a corpse is no longer an abstract implausibility demanding a “seeing is believing” quest. As such, the body can no longer merely exist in the background for the kids to ask necessary questions about themselves.

James Pondoldt and co-writer Benjamin Percy‘s script is thus beholden to doing way too much. It must balance Daisy (Lia Barnett), Dina (Madalen Mills), Lola (Sanai Victoria), and Mari’s (Eden Grace Redfield) decision to not call the police upon finding a corpse beside their childhood sanctuary (coined Terabithia) due to wanting to solve his death themselves against the trials and tribulations staring them in the face now that Middle School begins in two days. The filmmakers also choose to inject a mirror wherein we’re provided a glimpse into the girls’ future via their mothers (Lake Bell‘s depressed and absent Laura, Ashley Madekwe‘s oppressively education-pushing Joy, Sarah Cooper‘s new age-y aura-seeking Karna, and Megan Mullally‘s genial Big Brother helicopter mom Stacie). Eighty-five minutes isn’t enough to connect any dots.

The dots keep coming, though. And, more than that, they keep distracting from the fact that Daisy is the default lead considering she’s also the film’s sometimes narrator. So, while we are often watching events unfold from her perspective insofar as thinking she needs her friends more than they need her or the fact that her father has disappeared, leaving her mother a ghost when not working her police beat, Ponsoldt keeps trying to pretend like she’s no more important than the other three. But Mari not wanting to wear a skirt at the Catholic school she’ll be attending while the others stick to public school isn’t the same. To present these girls on equal footing does a disservice to their unique troubles. They become clichés.

This is Summering‘s biggest problem. No one on-screen feels real. No one possesses a shred of authenticity. It’s as though Ponsoldt and Percy brainstormed a bunch of universal stereotypes for a coming-of-age film and let their characters rise from them rather than even attempt to make their identities anything but one single trait each. Dina is the nerd who talks like a walking “Jeopardy” historian. Lola is the weirdo earnestly trying to bring the supernatural to the surface. Mari is the over-cautious prude (her mother Stacie’s word). And Daisy is the emotionally uncertain and perhaps unstable outcast everyone pities for what happened at home. This is who they are. This is who they remain. It would be tedious even without the stilted, unnatural dialogue they’re forced to spout.

Yet that’s here to cause eyerolls too. Is it a product of two forty-something men being way out of their element when it comes to writing four pre-teen girls? Maybe. I think it’s more than Ponsoldt and Percy fleshed out plot points first and then populated it with the characters, molding the latter to the former in ways that refuse to let them breathe as anything more than pawns to a story. For every genuine moment of impulsive fear like Dina throwing Mari’s phone (the only phone this quartet has) into oncoming traffic, there are five that feign precociousness despite just being adult conversations put into children’s mouths rather than filtered through those children’s minds. They’re all robots on predetermined pathways devoid of personality or agency.

So, why not throw in more subplots that go nowhere like the mothers desperately trying to figure out where their daughters are in a single scene that once again pretends like they’re equals despite the only real revelation coming from Laura? There’s a movie here that lets these girls look at their mothers and come to the same conclusions that looking into the dead man’s life does. Doing that, however, doesn’t allow for random horror tropes bringing that man’s corpse to life via ghost-like apparitions that are simultaneously a by-product of the trauma seeing him supplied and a collective hallucination that evaporates as quickly as every other half-baked notion of emotional depth included. Because none of it sticks. Give these girls a hug and they forget their pain.

What’s the point then? Ponsoldt writes that he wanted to give his daughter the type of film he had growing up, but Summering lacks the potency of those 1980s classics. It’s as though he missed the point that complexity by not talking down to your audience isn’t the same as macabre jump scares. Stand By Me is an R-rated film kids should watch. This is a PG film that’s rated PG-13 because of superficial reasons rather than thematic ones. He wants his viewers to see themselves in his characters yet doesn’t provide any insight to feel like we haven’t wasted our time on empty nostalgia. Rather than learn that growing up means growing apart, the lesson here seems to be the opposite: stunt your growth and stay together.

[1] Sanai Victoria, Madalen Mills, Eden Grace Redfield and Lia Barnett in SUMMERING. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
[2] Megan Mullally in SUMMERING. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.
[3] Sarah Cooper and Ashley Madekwe in SUMMERING. Courtesy of Bleecker Street.

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