Summertime is, fittingly, a movie about time itself and its “little surprises.” We waste time wasting away on social media, while unbeknownst to us, we’re side characters in another time waster’s story happening not too far away. A single day can change an entire life, while everyone else appears to be living in slow motion by comparison. Summertime operates by dream logic, which is its main appeal, but also its downfall as a coherent piece of work.
The film certainly has its moments, to be fair. From its frequently lucid daydreaming rap poetry diatribes to its genuinely affirming—yet only occasionally brutal—portrayal of modern LA through the eyes of its own young, fresh-faced poets. We follow their individual stories through a somewhat interconnected narrative akin to Love Actually or “New York, I Love You” from Master of None. While these transitions from perspective to perspective are usually natural and believable, Summertime takes far more detours and editing shortcuts than necessary. For the majority of the runtime, however, these detours take us to perfectly entertaining bursts of poetic expression written by the actual actors performing them.
Director Carlos López Estrada flexes the humorous, yet down-to-earth charm of his previous film Blindspotting—which is also a film about a city with more than enough baggage to sift through—and his unique filmmaking style is still as likable and courageous as ever. Who else would be brave enough to make a musical based almost solely around rap poetry featuring virtually unknown actors to the tone of Slacker?
In fact, a stronger script could have made this a La La Land for Gen Z, but the inconsistent transitions, camera-facing resolution, and wishy-washy tone just can’t keep up with the airtight focus of the actual set piece monologues when it comes to unrelenting emotion and pure conviction. When the poets are given a chance to let their words flow as intended, Summertime shows off its gravitas and quirky commitment to trying something at least a little new. But the performances in between are too rough around the edges to maintain a true sense of immersion.
The rap poetry also ranges in questionable quality. A Yelp review gone wrong is a true delight and could be mistaken for a short film unto itself—it’s just dripping with impeccable timing and verve. But soon after, an argument on a bus turns into a scribe against homophobic bigots that feels entirely manufactured and too dramatically contrived to take seriously. Other short stories found throughout the city of angels land somewhere in between, and can even be surprisingly humorous, like a time-bending progression of two street rappers who find themselves on the precipice of actually making it big in LA.
Summertime works far better as an abstract exercise in youthful wish fulfillment than it does a complete, polished film. Which is odd because this is not from a first-time filmmaker still polishing their craft, though Estrada is clearly in search of mastering his own voice as a director. Estrada captured an undeniable magic in Blindspotting, but in Summertime, he’s choosing freestyle over substance. And it seems he wouldn’t have it any other way.
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