Movie Reviews: The Slam-Poetic tragic “Summertime” and Tragicomic “Summer of ’85”

If woke Twitter collectively directed a movie, it would look something like “Summertime” (opening in theaters today), a facile, if superficially novel, attempt at a Lin-Manuel Mirandan urban tapestry.

Director Carlos Lopez Said in Movie

Director Carlos Lopez Estrada cast his film almost entirely with spoken-word poets from Los Angeles, endeavoring to capture a city symphony through the metered voices of its 27 ethnically and culturally diverse performers playing versions of themselves—

youthful strivers, podcasters, hustling rappers, street artists and fast-food workers, among others, navigating the hurly-burly of contemporary life with beats, rhymes and mutual aid. Borrowing the narrative logic—if little of the authenticity—of Richard Linklater’s 1991 landmark “Slacker,” Lopez interlocks the stories of his young Angelinos as they literally bump into each other, letting the city’s entropy decide which character to follow next. One character, Tyris (Tyris Winter) spends the entire film navigating chichi eateries and changing restaurant storefronts in a daylong attempt to find a cheeseburger—a bit of satire that falls flat because the concept of a cheeseburger shortage in L.A. is patently absurd.

Movie Reviews: The Slam-Poetic tragic “Summertime” and Tragicomic “Summer of ’85”
Movie Reviews: The Slam-Poetic tragic “Summertime” and Tragicomic “Summer of ’85”

While Linklater’s portrait of Austin through the people who lived there felt illuminating at every turn, Estrada’s facile experiment is content to skim surfaces, relying on sentimentality, platitudes and internet lingo as his nonprofessional actors weave their performance poetry into a script filled with such hoary lines as “I got a pocketful of dreams, and no one’s holding me down.”

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Movie Reviews: The Slam-Poetic tragic “Summertime” and Tragicomic “Summer of ’85”

There are scant moments, like a montage of the actors reflecting on what the word “home” means, or the queer poet Tyris recording a an emotional cellphone video about his ostracization from his family, where “Summertime” approaches a deeper level of engagement, but most of Estrada’s vision is simply painful to watch. The movie’s sense of rebelliousness is juvenile and self-congratulatory. It’s hard to hear a city’s wonderful and distinctive noise over all the self-administered rounds of applause.

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