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Review: Summertime

If you have never been to an open poetry night or a poetry slam, you may want to check your appetite for such before seeing Summertime. I say this because the film is back-to-back poetry and I know from experience that some will be resistant to the film's style. I was initially but it is a credit to director Carlos López Estrada and the young talent on display that this film won me over. Earnest, energetic, and messy, Summertime is a unique blast of cinema against cynicism and assholery that occasionally indulges in those attitudes.

Each of the passionate poets on display comes from a Los Angeles high-school-based workshop. The results of that workshop are what makeup Summertime. It's cool that this happened and worth knowing going in. You are going to hear bright, young voices speak about the world they see. It is very sincere and you need to check your attitude at the door if you are going to enjoy any of it.

Director Estrada incorporated dance and spoken word into his brilliant debut Blindspotting from 2018. That film built to a climax that was played out with spoken word. That was only one element of that film where here it is the whole thing. Each of the 25 students is a co-writer of the film and the majority play themselves on screen. This structure gives the film a sprawling but often disconnected feel. If there is a theme, it is Los Angeles but even that is murky. The lack of plot or connection to each poet isn't needed but it does prevent the film from culminating into anything substantial.

Summertime is set on a single day. Scene transitions involve little more than the camera shifting focus to someone else. While some characters reappear, many do not and the attempts at connective plot elements do little here. I almost wish the film was bolder about its breaks from one poet performance to another.

While the performances vary in quality, the film does close with a very powerful moment. Marquesha Babers pours her heart out to someone who rejected her, conveying the pain he caused to him and to us the viewers. As the tears drip down her face, I felt a desire to reach out to her and all the poets and tell them life will be okay. Their youth and that unique perspective that comes from being so young mean that they view life in extremes. The earnestness of these young poets, so confident in themselves, is at once thrilling and tragic. Not everything works in the film and some performances were grating. However, it is moments like these that make the film unique and something to see.



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