Faced with the challenges of growing up, grade school friends Daisy, Lola, Dina, and Mari find themselves frolicking through the final days of summer. However, their regular routine gets upended by the sudden discovery of a grown-up reality in Summering.
I’ve always loved nostalgic, rose-tinted coming-of-age stories that delve into the overlooked complexities of aging out of youth. When executed right, films like Lady Bird and Eighth Grade extract generational sentiments from their unique slice-of-life perspective.
Summering also marks the return of writer/director James Ponsoldt, who co-writers here with Benjamin Percy. Fans of early 2010 indies know Ponsoldt as the articulate voice behind underrated gems like Smashed, Spectacular Now, and End of the Tour. Since 2014, Ponsoldt has been relegated to TV director status after helming the disastrous tech thriller The Circle.
Unfortunately, Summering was subject to diminishing reviews and underwhelming reactions from Sundance 2022 audiences back in January. I think the final product here presents enough glimmers to rise above the harsh early buzz. Still, the occasional bursts of promise eventually compact into a sincere yet misguided coming of age exercise.
Nailing the right balance between authenticity and insight requires a particularly deft touch. For Ponsoldt and Percy, the duo never quite find that comfort zone on the page. While paying earnest tribute to 80s staples like Stand By Me, Summering utilizes familiar coming-of-age devices without the sharp perspective that makes the genre’s best entries work. Dialogue is especially a weakness of the script. Several lines strain themselves with maudlin melodrama as the film tries too hard to rouse meaningful sentiments.
The characterization feels similarly stilted. Each childhood friend receives one or two personality traits to define their persona- a choice that morphs good intentions into hackneyed attempts at character development. The young cast, including Lia Barnett, Sanai Victoria, Madalen Mills, and Eden Grace Redfield, bring enough personality and professionalism to enrich these characters. It’s just a shame that none of the actors receive the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on viewers.
Even as it struggles to connect, Summering radiates undeniable spirit. Pondsoldt rediscovers his comfort zone behind the camera as a visceral storyteller. He and Cinematographer Greta Zozula draw the late-summer setting as a sun-kissed landscape bursting with whimsy and wistfulness around every corner. There are also a few instants where Summering elicits impactful ruminations on growing up and discovering humanity’s harshest realities.
A few standout frames eventually wash away as Summering gets lost in its ambitious worldview. I still think the final product shows an admirable effort for Ponsoldt and company as they reckon with aging without typically mawkish kid gloves.