James Ponsoldt has been directing for a while now. He has more than a few films under his belt, including The Circle and The End of the Tour. His most successful film as far as critical and fan acclaim is The Spectacular Now. His latest film, Summering, is a little different from his other films. This time, he’s directing kids, which he’s not done before. Usually, he directs stories about young adults or teens trying to find a place in the world.
This story follows four adolescent teen girls — Dina (Madalen Mills), Mari (Eden Grace Redfield), Lola (Sanai Victoria), and Daisy (Lia Barnett) — as they are enjoying their summer vacation. While doing their usual pastime, exploring the nearby woods surrounding their homes, they come across a dead body. This leads them down a rabbit hole as they try to figure out who this person is while also trying to avoid any suspicion from their parents.
The girls are best friends and are getting ready to enter middle school. They are worried that they won’t be friends anymore. This little adventure might be their last time hanging out with each other. They’re all from different backgrounds, so they may be heading to different schools. Their parents have different motivations for them. They believe these girls have futures and want to control them — all except one of them, that is.
Ponsoldt’s style in this film is very minimalist. It seems he had a smaller budget than usual to work with. Even though he gets a few named actresses as the mothers, he has a relatively unknown cast. That helps with an indie budget. Following four girls around a non-descript city doesn’t cost a lot. The real story is these girls’ relationship with each other. They develop a bond that they don’t want to end.
As far as coming-of-age stories go, this one is a bit simpler and not as confusing or complicated. It’s pretty straightforward storytelling. These girls aren’t that different than most kids their age. They just want to do something with their lives and be somebody. However, it really struggles as a kids’ movie. It just doesn’t have a magical feel to it like other similar films. They keep referencing Bridge to Terabithia, but this film is far from that in many ways.
Summering isn’t anything special in the coming-of-age genre, but it has a charm to it anyway. This wasn’t a terrible film, but it’s not the best work Ponsoldt has done in his career. The budget might have to do with that. The minimalist feel of this film didn’t work in the end. Other filmmakers have done similar things better in the past. Hopefully, Ponsoldt will rebound with a better film next time out.
Dan Skip Allen
Sean Boelman EIC/ disappointmentmedia.com