I can remember one pre-teen summer where a group of friends and I rode our bikes several miles around town, traversing wooded dirt paths and spending the entire day wafting in the heat. It felt like we’d gone halfway around the world…. and the worried rants of our parents when we all returned home probably justified our perceptions that we had, indeed, pushed our allowed boundaries of roaming freedom.
In director James Ponsoldt’s new film Summering, that same feeling of waning summer adventure hits remarkably clear, albeit with a bit darker tone when the four middle school aged best friends discover something ominous. What begins as a lazy trip to their secret, faraway wooded area soon sets them on a different path of self discovery.
Established as tight knit friends on the eve of entering a new school year, Daisy (Lia Barnett), Lola (Sanai Victoria), Dina (Madalen Mills) and Mari (Eden Grace Redfield), stumble across town, through storm sewers and across wooded paths to reach a decorated tree adorned with all types of trinkets they’ve placed around it. Then, something close by catches their attention and their summer plans of hanging out, playing games on the phones, and worrying about middle school take a backseat to their Nancy Drew-like search for meaning.
It’s a plot twist that could potentially sink many films, but in Summering, it works, mostly due to the indelible performances of the film”s four young actresses. They’re bratty one moment, sincere the next, and then smacked with the emotions of reality in another. And since the script is written by two males (Ponsoldt and Benjamin Percy), the risk of surface transparency in representing four young girls could be decried, but the film is saved from this fate by their generous performances.
And while all this is going on, where are the parents? A bit more cardboard than the girls, the mothers (Lake Bell, Sarah Cooper, Ashley Maekwe and Megan Mullally) do get to showcase their worried status when all phone contact and tracking is lost from their daughters. If they only knew what they were really up to.
Summering takes several sharp detours, but at its heart, it’s a film that adds itself to the coming-of-age genre whose summer months instill bravery, adventure, and bursts of adulthood. The girls ask themselves several times during the film if they’ll stay friends during the upcoming years when their world will certainly become exponentially greater. It’s a moment of waning adolescence we all go through.
And yet, in a penultimate scene, the girls are dancing to a Taylor Swift song in a bedroom after a sleepover and being completely innocent 13 years olds for a few minutes. Summering exposes the girls to some hard truths, but I think the kids will be alright.
Summering opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday August 12th at the following locations: AMC Parks 18 in Arlington, AMC Stonebriar in Frisco, AMC Grapevine Mills and AMC Mesquite 30.