by Katie Rife | special from the AV Club
For someone situated within the overlapping circles of self-loathing that are being a critic and being a millennial, witnessing acts of unselfconscious creativity like the new movie Summertime can be distressing.
Faced with earnest expressions of dreams tightly held by young people that have every right to be a bunch of cynical assholes yet have somehow resisted the call, the fight or flight centers of a reviewer’s brain light up all at once like glitchy fireworks. “How are these teenagers so self-possessed?,” you think, panic building behind your eyeballs. “Oh, shit. I think they really mean it.”
It’s tempting to conclude that Summertime does a disservice to its cast of young performers by giving them the impression that if they were to stand up on a city bus and start reciting a spoken word piece, everyone would clap. But these kids aren’t that naive. They’re just passionate. Each one of the Los Angeles high-school performers in Summertime participated in a poetry workshop, and the results were good enough that they got to showcase their best work in a feature film that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival before landing a theatrical distribution deal. That’s pretty fucking cool. And if sincerity makes some portion of their audience nervous… well, that’s not their problem, frankly.
Director Carlos López Estrada is not new to integrating spoken word into his movies: His 2018 feature debut, Blindspotting, famously built to a cathartic slam poetry confrontation. Summertime elevates this love of language from seasoning to the main course, constructing an entire film around the output of arts nonprofit Get Lit, which specializes in teaching teenagers to express themselves through poetry.
Each of the 25 students featured is listed as a co-writer of the film, and many of them play some version of themselves on screen. The result is a street-level La La Land told not by starry-eyed transplants but by native Angelenos. Title aside, it doesn’t convey a distinct sense of any particular season—at least, not to this Midwesterner—but it does introduce viewers to a number of unique takes on its sprawling, multicultural city.
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