by Hope Madden
We’re invited to a turning point for four best friends. This is the last weekend of summer. On Monday, Daisy (Lia Barnett), Lola (Sanal Victoria), Dina (Madalen Mills) and Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) will be middle schoolers.
The first moments of Summering communicate the film’s strengths and weaknesses simultaneously. Heavy-handed, stilted voiceover narration sinks what is otherwise a jubilant, funny and very authentic opening.
Daisy, in voiceover, as we watch four adorable youngsters walk and talk through their suburban neighborhood: Summer has no walls. You can go anywhere.
Mari, on-camera dialog about that time her mom made her use the men’s room because the line for the women’s room was too long: Pee was everywhere. It was like a lake of man pee.
Summering walks that weird balance for its entire run time. One moment beams with the authentic lunacy of pre-adolescence. The next, adult male writers wax poetic and pretend that poetry sprung from the mind of a 12-year-old girl.
Director James Ponsoldt (The Circle, The Spectacular Now) and co-writer Benjamin Percy set the kids on an adventure before school and life changes the delicate balance of their circle. It amounts to a modern retelling of Stand By Me, with lower stakes, less ground to cover, and a wild lack of logic. Ponsolt and Percy seem desperate to capture the raw honesty of Reiner’s classic King adaptation, but their result’s a cloying mess.
The performances – especially Redfield and Megan Mullally as Mari’s mom – charm and endear with authenticity. Victoria and Mills succeed in crafting individuals, girls with backstories and personalities. Barnett, paired with an effective if woefully underused Lake Bell as the mom who drinks, struggles with the heavy emotion of an arc that’s clearly telegraphed.
It’s another way the storytelling rings false scene after scene.
Helicopter parents and cell phones, cartwheels and nostalgia, Ponsolt brings together all the elements for a modern ode to the last moments of childhood. And he tries really hard. But he’s unconvincing.