Synopsis: As their last summer before middle school comes to a close, four best friends face the uncertainties of growing up and embark on their biggest adventure.
Stars: Lia Barnett, Madalen Mills, Eden Grace Redfield, Sanai Victoria, Lake Bell, Sarah Cooper, Ashley Madekwe, Megan Mullally
Director: James Ponsoldt
Running Length: 85 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: On one of my social media accounts last week, I saw a friend posting pictures of their kids in full school attire with the caption, “First day of school!”. I checked the early August date and blinked a little in shock. August? What happened to kids having June, July, and August to…be kids? No more pencils, no more books, and all that jazz? It just seemed too early for me, and I can only imagine what those kids must be feeling (or their parents!), and it made me remember my childhood. I thought about what it was like in those final weeks of summer and getting ready to say goodbye to the friends you made and/or got closer to as you had many adventures around your neighborhood.
Your enjoyment of Summering may rise or fall on how precious you hold your memories about that time in your life. Likely, your tolerance over its shortcomings will also play a factor. That’s the struggle with a movie as earnest and ready to do good as Summering. Some aspects of the film written by Benjamin Percy and James Ponsoldt (who also directs) are substantial, but too often, there’s a shapeless maudlin gauziness that overtakes it and can make it an unbearable film to get through. The film runs 85 minutes, but it might as well have been 185 minutes for how slow it creeps by when it should be soaring.
There’s early promise in the opening act when Ponsoldt and Percy introduce us to the four young girls enjoying a typical end-of-summer day. They’ve done almost everything there is to do around town (twice) and have made many ceremonial trips to their “Terabithia,” a tree where they place favored objects found on their escapades. On their latest Terabithia trek, Daisy (Lia Barnett) finds something else nearby…the body of a man that has likely fallen from the bridge several stories up. The corpse doesn’t scare the girls as much as it makes them curious to find out who the man was. With no wallet and few clues found on his person, they set out to find his identity but wind-up learning more about their individual differences that continue to develop.
What ultimately scuttles the movie is that these four intelligent girls (one with police officer Lake Bell as their mother) wouldn’t report this right away to the authorities. Examining the body, moving it, taking pictures of it, showing these pictures to people and asking if they know the man in the picture seems so out of touch with the sensitive and sensible kids we meet at the outset. True, Mari (Eden Grace Redfield, Home Again) was hesitant and even had the most trouble keeping it from her mom (Megan Mullally, Where’d You Go, Bernadette), but Dina (Madalen Mills, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey) and Lola (Sanai Victoria) aren’t putting up a fight when Daisy sets them out on this quest.
Obvious comparisons to Stand by Me are unavoidable, and you have to wonder why the screenwriters would even position their film in the vicinity of that beloved classic. Four friends finding a body during the summer and exploring how it affects their lives is the thinnest of plot descriptions for both Summering and that 1986 Rob Reiner film. I spent far too much time trying to figure out if this was a reimagining of the original Stephen King novella or truly an original story. Aside from an extra layer of having the mothers featured as prominent characters, there’s little to suggest a viewing of Summering should replace Stand by Me.
Ponsoldt gained great acclaim directing 2013’s The Spectacular Now, which contained lovely performances and sincerity, but Summering is rarely spectacular ever. It’s hard to knock a movie aimed at pre-teen girls because so few movies (or studios, or directors) show interest in them, to begin with. Admirable though it is for Percy and Ponsoldt to spotlight four young actresses and surround them with a cast of conservatively familiar faces (Mullally does best, amiably pitching her role without feeling phony), I wish they had found a more powerful story to support them.