by George Wolf
Near the end of director Carlos López Estrada’s impressive 2018 debut feature Blindspotting, Daveed Diggs unleashes a blisteringly beautiful rap monologue. Estrada showcases the raw, extended wordplay to lay bare a character’s journey and a film’s soul.
Now, after joining the directing team on Disney’s enchanting Raya and the Last Dragon last year, Estrada returns to solo work – as well as the streets – with Summertime, an uplifting celebration of urban poets “spitting that emotional fire” amid an interconnected assemblage of L.A. stories.
Anewbyss & Rah (Bryce Banks & Austin Antoine) are a rap duo trying to build a following. Gordon (Gordon Ip) is tired of working in a burger joint. Brokenhearted Sophia (Maia Mayor) is stalking her ex-boyfriend and finds a kindred spirit in the thoughtful Marquesha (Marquesha Babers). Mila (Mila Cuda) is standing up to a bus riding homophobe while Tyris (Tyris Winter) is just searching for a good cheeseburger and documenting his quest on Yelp.
These are but a few of the many compelling personalities in this magnetic mosaic of poems, images, cultures and identities. Estrada weaves together the work of twenty-six different poets, each one spitting emotional fire to spare.
Anchored proudly in the City of Angels, Summertime drops the beats of a grittier West Coast bookend to In the Heights. There are dreamers of diverse backgrounds here, too, though these are the more openly wounded variety, finding comfort from channeling the hurt into writing.
But as raw as those wounds can get, the performers never abandon the humor, joy and hope that comes from upending conventions about who they are, where they’re from, and what they have to offer.
So many different threads in one 95-minute tour of L.A. probably shouldn’t work this well. Credit Estrada’s balanced vision and his wonderful cast of artists for making sure that stopping, looking, and listening to Summertime is a thoroughly rewarding thing to do.