Summering (United States, 2022)

August 14, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Summering Poster

During a short introduction filled with evocative cinematography and a wistful voiceover narrative, writer/director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) captures the essence of what summer means to a child. What can seem ephemeral to an adult feels endless to a kid – a time of long days, late bedtimes, friendship, and freedom. Ponsoldt taps into this as the jumping-off point for a movie that ultimately goes nowhere, with a narrative that too obviously echoes Stand by Me and underdeveloped characters whose stories and interactions never gel.

The gauzy, nostalgia-tinged first 15 minutes represent the best Summering has to offer as they transport the viewer (regardless of age) to the nexus between summer’s waning days and the looming advent of the school year. The quartet of tween girls – Daisy (Lia Barnett), Lola (Sanai Victoria), Dina (Madalen Mills), and Mari (Eden Grade Redfield) – have been friends all throughout grade school but now face the transition to middle school with trepidation. As they wander through the woods that have become their playground, they sense an existential threat to their closeness. Mari won’t be joining her three besties (she’s headed for a Catholic school where she’ll have to wear a uniform) and the others sense on some level that friendships cultivated in early childhood often don’t survive all the way through to high school graduation. That’s when they find the body. And the discovery of the corpse, in addition to cementing the Stand by Me association, is where the movie ceases to be interesting.

Thereafter, it becomes an amalgamation of half-baked character bits, often detailing mother/daughter interactions, and Nancy Drew-type sleuthing as the four young girls attempt to learn the dead man’s identity. The reasons for not telling any adults about what they found in the woods are contrived (as is the resolution of this particular plot thread), although perhaps not as artificial as the séance that seeks to recall the dearly departed’s spirit from beyond the grave. Too often during its midsection, Summering mines sit-coms for inspiration.

The cast is strong. The four young stars - Lia Barnett, Sanai Victoria, Madalen Mills, Eden Grace Redfield – are solid, offering natural performances and evincing a strong sense of group chemistry. I kept wishing the writing had been better because, on those occasions when the screenplay gets it right, I believed in these four as best friends trying to stave off the unwanted approach of autumn, adolescence, and all they represent. But the script (Ponsoldt shares a credit with Benjamin Percy) saddles them with awkward dialogue and manufactured actions. The adults, played by the likes of Lake Bell and Megan Mullally, have no depth.

It’s possible that a certain group of precocious pre-teens will be engaged by Summering. Much of it seems to have been pitched at that level, although it’s likely that the majority of those in the 10-13-year-old crowd will be bored. Older viewers may lose patience with the thinness of the narrative. Nostalgia might keep them watching but there’s only so far that can go and 90 minutes is too much to ask without the correspondingly intriguing story that Summering lacks.

Summering (United States, 2022)

Run Time: 1:27
U.S. Release Date: 2022-08-12
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Adult Situations)
Genre: Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1