Written by: Hannah Tran | August 12th, 2022
Summering (James Ponsoldt, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.
The bittersweetness of summertime nostalgia is at the forefront of director James Ponsoldt’s Summering. It’s a film that takes on mortality from the perspective of a group of young girls who each must deal with the painful processes of change and grief. After finding a man’s body in the forest, the four best friends decide to take the mystery into their own hands as one last adventure before the inevitable beginning of middle school.
Following what is widely considered his worst movie, 2017’s The Circle, and what I consider his greatest, 2015’s The End of the Tour, Ponsoldt’s latest falls disappointingly somewhere in the middle. Tonally and thematically, it is more comparable to his 2013 coming-of-age romance, The Spectacular Now. These two films share an aesthetic richness, and they both find visual beauty in nature and refreshing sincerity in the authenticity of their characters. However, Ponsoldt’s attempt at embodying the mindset of these young girls does not always feel as natural as in his previous work.
The writing and delivery of the dialogue is where the movie can feel the most superficial. It has a certain childlike quality that feels overly manufactured, but the content of it often feels oddly more self-aware and self-serious than it needs to be. With that in mind, the characters are still likable, and watching their emotional arcs and specific inner lives is surprisingly funny, sad, and sweet. Moreover, the young performers bring lots of energy, although Eden Grace Redfield, in the role of Mari, is definitely the standout. Both her character and performance carry the weighty themes at hand. Her relationship with the other girls, her family, and her religion make for many of the film’s most emotionally effective moments.
The movie has a mysterious atmosphere and a number of lush visual moments. When it attempts to deviate from these by playing with both humor and horror, it loses many of its most intriguing qualities. The ideas that seem funny on paper don’t translate into the consistently heavy material, and the random moments that almost feel pulled from a horror movie made ten years ago only work to disrupt and cheapen the rest of the film. While far from his best work, Ponsoldt’s Summering is nevertheless an emotionally satisfactory look into the heartbreak of growing up. Its understanding of girlhood may not always feel quite right, but the more genuine moments between the girls tend to outshine everything else.