I like James Ponsoldt a lot as a filmmaker. He may not have a perfect resume, but he’s an enjoyably old-fashioned director. His throwback qualities and focus on character have led to an undisputed bit of brilliance with The Spectacular Now, but also an incredibly underrated flick in The End of the Tour. A Ponsoldt project is going to focus on the characters he’s showing off to you all, as well as an understanding of who they are. With Summering, his latest film, that’s again the case. He’s gone with a much younger group of protagonists this time around, but the movie ends up with several of the same interests. It’s kinder and gentler than usual, which is a bit of a mixed bag, but his heart is decidedly in the right place here.
Summering is a minor effort from Ponsoldt, but when it’s just focusing on the specific vibe that the end of summer brings during childhood, it’s on firm ground. For a short film, it also takes its time, never seeming to be in a rush. While it has a somewhat disposable quality to it, the end result sneaks up on you, leaving you with a smile on your face, as well as a warm feeling in your heart.
Set during the final days of summer, as well as the weekend before middle school begins, four girls and lifelong friends are about to set off on an adventure. Daisy (Lia Barnett), Dina (Madalen Mills), Lola (Sanai Victoria), and Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) won’t be at the same school anymore, so there’s a chance their friendships could end. So, that’s on their mind as they go to a special secluded area they call their own. There, they find something unexpected, which kicks off their end of summer adventure.
While they struggle with the harsh truths of growing up and embark on this quest, back home their mothers begin to worry about them. Overworked cop Laura (Lake Bell) is a heavy drinker but a worrier, while Stacy (Megan Mullally) quickly guesses something is up. As the mothers look for them, the mission leads them to a familiar place, as well as a realization that adult life is coming for them, but they don’t have to give up their friendship in the process.
The fact that this cast is almost exclusively female is a lovely touch. Truly, the girls are focus, with Lia Barnett, Madalen Mills, Eden Grace Redfield, and Sanai Victoria effectively inhabiting their parts. The adults don’t get much to do, with Lake Bell especially underserved, though Megan Mullally has an amusing moment early on. Supporting players here also include Sarah Cooper, Ashley Madekwe, and more.
Co-writer/director James Ponsoldt keeps one foot grounded and one foot firmly planted in the fantastical here. Summering doesn’t always feel at its best with that decision, but it’s one from Ponsoldt and co-writer Benjamin Percy that definitely sets it apart. You never doubt that the feeling and vibe are intentional. It won’t be everyone’s style or to everyone’s taste, but it’s a slyly bold move in a movie that always could have played it safe. Not everything works, including having one of the girls having weird visions, but it continues to separate it from other, similar, films.
Summering isn’t going to blow you away, but it does what you want from a nice little coming of age tale. Doing it with a female spin is a nice little touch, one that shows how Ponsoldt can tell any number of stories. As much as anything, it continues to show me that he’s a filmmaker worth following, wherever he may wander off to.