‘Summering’ Movie Review [Sundance 2022]: James Ponsoldt’s Coming-of-Age Drama Lacks Emotion

Summering is a coming-of-age letdown. Writer/director James Ponsoldt and co-writer Benjamin Percy tackle female adolescence and the inevitable fact of getting older. Summering had the potential to unlock a truly emotional narrative, but it ultimately comes across as cold and distant. This is a result of the film assuming that it already had its audience in the palm of its hand.

‘Summering’ is a pre-middle school coming-of-age story

'Summering' Madalen Mills as Dina, Sanai Victoria as Lola, Eden Grace Redfield as Mari, and Lia Barnett as Daisy looking down with trees in the background
L-R: Madalen Mills as Dina, Sanai Victoria as Lola, Eden Grace Redfield as Mari, and Lia Barnett as Daisy | Sundance Institute

Daisy (Lia Barnett), Dina (Madalen Mills), Mari (Eden Grace Redfield), and Lola (Sanai Victoria) are best friends. They’re approaching the end of their summer vacation before they begin their middle school adventures. However, they aren’t all going to the same school and fear not being able to see each other as often as they currently do.

The four girls head into nature where they place various items around a tree. They come across the dead body of a mysterious man. They don’t want to get in trouble with their parents, so they agree to keep it a secret while they try to discover his identity and what happened to him. This might be the last time they get to spend this much time together, so they want to make the most of it.

James Ponsoldt addresses adolescent fears and anxieties

Ponsoldt’s Summering screenplay aims to touch on nostalgia. Technology is often put aside as these girls play outside and run around the area. Middle school is approaching and they all have distinct anxieties about entering the next stage of their lives. The thought of not seeing each other as often worries them, but the looming threat of growing up is especially present.

Summering often discusses the concept of time. The girls talk about moving forward and backward through time to capture life’s best moments. They see the value of younger and much older ages, but they don’t feel ready to tackle the memories to be made in the present day.

The mysterious man’s dead body is a mission for the four girls to pursue, but it’s not ultimately the point of Ponsoldt’s screenplay. Rather, it’s simply a vehicle for telling a story about growing up and adolescent fears and anxieties. Summering includes the figure of the dead man haunting them and the question of whether he was a good or bad man. The lessons they learn will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

‘Summering’ doesn’t earn its emotional impact

'Summering' Lake Bell wearing black in front of a door
Lake Bell | Sundance Institute

Summering has some sweet moments that resonate quite nicely, such as the girls’ discussion about their future aspirations. Ponsoldt and Percy write this scene with an endearing sense of sincerity. There are a few sequences that include this honesty in the writing, although it doesn’t all come together into something that sticks.

The acting also greatly hinders Ponsoldt and Percy’s writing. The chemistry between the four lead girls is lacking. They don’t read on screen as if they’re best friends and a lot of the dialogue comes across as flat. Meanwhile, the adult actors don’t fare too much better. None of the performances ring true, giving the film false emotion.

Summering sees a group of girls gaining a new appreciation and outlook on life. Friendships change over time, especially at younger ages. The film touches on the theme of mortality as it relates to time, although it’s a bit thin. Ponsoldt tries to earn some emotional moments in the third act, but none of them land as a result of the group’s dynamic feeling forced. Summering is forgettable and doesn’t connect on the levels it intends to.

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