During their last days of summer and childhood — the weekend before middle school begins — four girls struggle with the harsh truths of growing up and embark on a mysterious adventure.

Chuck says:

There’s a great deal of heart in James Ponsoldt’s “Summering.” Unfortunately, there’s little else and that’s a shame as the subjects of this well-meaning film are often underrepresented on the big screen while the message in the script is worthwhile.  And yet somehow, there’s not a sense of urgency in watching the four young protagonists on their coming-of-age journey, primarily because it borrows a well-known concept, while the scattered nature of the story prevents the viewer from ever feeling engaged with them.

Daisy (Lia Barnett) is our narrator and she and her three friends – Lola (Sanai Victoria), Dina (Madalen Mills) and Mari (Eden Grace Redfield)- are about to start middle school.  They have one weekend of freedom left and they spend it wandering around their neighborhood, having sleepovers, playing games and sharing their innermost fears and desires with one another.  It’s during these initial moments that the film creates a sense of genuine intimacy that it struggles to maintain.  The quiet moments in the script by Benjamin Percy and director James Ponsoldt are the most effective, a fly-on-the-wall sensibility pervading these scenes thanks to the naturalistic approach of the four leads.

However, their weekend is disrupted when they find a body in the woods they frequent. Sensible Mari wants to call the police, inquisitive Dina suggests they find out who the dead man is on their own, while the spiritual Lola is unsure how to process what they’ve discovered. As for Daisy, she can’t help but draw connections between the corpse and her own father, who mysteriously disappeared a year prior.

The relationships the four girls have with their mothers are full of promise but inconsistently rendered. Stacie (Megan Mullally) and Mari have conversations suffused with wry humor and pithy interplay, yet there aren’t enough moments between them that provide a sincere emotional foundation. The same can be said about the mother-daughter bond between Lola and Karna (Sarah Cooper) and Dina and Joy (Ashley Madekwe) – there are cursory moments of interest thanks to the chemistry between the respective pairs, but they simply aren’t explored as they should be. I am not often a proponent for longer movies but clocking in at under 90 minutes, “Summering” is in desperate need of an additional 15-25 minutes to realize the potential of these characters.

There’s a bit more time devoted to Daisy and her mother Laura (Lake Bell) – she is narrating after all – but their circumstances seem contrived and forced.  The mystery of what happened to dear old dad is solved in a manner that’s far too easy and simply doesn’t hold water.

Much of the film is devoted to the concerted Nancy Drew act the four girls embark on as they try to solve the mystery of the dead guy in the woods. Their work leads to few answers, though a ghostly face pops up time and again in various windows prompting them to wonder just who is stalking them and us to realize just how desperate Percy and Ponsoldt have become.

To be sure, “Summering” is a well-meaning film, yet it proceeds like one of the lazy summer days the girls find themselves in.  There’s little in the way of direction, it meanders from one subject or activity to the next and ultimately it proves to be not all that memorable, foisting an ending upon the viewer it hasn’t earned.  To be sure, we need films that portray girls growing into confident, assertive women. Unfortunately, “Summering” isn’t it.

2 Stars

Pam says:

What promise this film and story held, but unfortunately, “Summering” just doesn’t deliver.   There’s certainly a lack of movies about tween girls during these formidable and formative years and while “Summering” lacks depth in storytelling, the performances of all of these young actresses is something to celebrate.

The story itself doesn’t take any chances, playing it safe to a point of boredom for the viewer.  Intermittently, we get a boost of energy from the unique mother-daughter exchanges between Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) and Mom (Megan Mullally), but the storyline comes back to bog down the overall feel and the relationships within it.  Also lacking is any true resolution as well as the contrived mom-group interactions.

I needed more.  More story, more heart, more about who these kids are and their home lives.  It’s sad that there was a kernel of a story that could have been filled with humor and heart, but instead, it was just a disappointment.

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