The following review is a transcript of a video review that will soon be available on my YouTube Channel.
SUMMERLAND is a queer 2020 coming-of-age comedy directed by Kurtis David Harder and Noah Kentis, otherwise known as Lankyboy. I was given an advanced screener of the film for an honest review, and as usual with screeners, I had to check it out. Watching screeners is always an interesting experience. Just like Forest Gump‘s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s always a bit of a blind viewing. I’ve both seen films I’ve loved, films that blew my mind, as well as films that I found to be mediocre. So, where does this one lie? Let’s get a little dauntless and let’s get crackin!
This review is brought to you by the word of the day: Dauntless – Showing fearlessness and determination.
There’s both things that I really enjoyed about this movie as well as didn’t. Let’s start with the good. There was definitely something going on behind the scenes that impressed me. That mostly had to do with how the film, as a whole, looked. The first impressions that came to me while watching was maybe a number of student filmmakers with an extreme passion in the art of filmmaking without the need for a high budget. They knew how to utilize little things like setting up camera angles, and very faint overall filters that make it just look that much neater. That, combined with certain onscreen visuals like the texting bubbles that float on the screen (which aren’t hard to do, they just look nice), as well as certain moments of editing, really made the film look and feel warm and fun. Plus, you really do have to give it credit because they were able to do all of this with, probably, a pretty substantially low budget, so they knew their constraints, and they did incredibly well with them.
I also want to mention the fact that at the very heart of the film, I did find the premise compelling. You’re talking about a main character catfishing someone else. Catfishing is almost always seen as something malicious and abusive. People catfish others to either expose them, bully them, troll them, harass them, or even stalk or kill them. Usually, nothing good comes out of catfishing, but this was an interesting approach, as it had more to do with confidence. You had this guy really interested in this other guy, who he’s pretty sure is actually gay, and to help him realize that, he’s pretending to be a girl. But you’re also watching, thinking that can’t be the only reason he’s catfishing. It also has to deal with his own confidence in talking to others, which is great, but it would have been better if this wasn’t an openly gay guy. Everyone knows he’s gay and they already accept him, so I’m not sure why he feels the need to catfish someone else. If he was entirely closeted, this would make a tad more sense, as it’s a way for this guy to feel that attention and admiration he deeply desires even though he’s too afraid to come out as gay. That I would understand. This…not so much. I feel like it was actually a slight misjudgment on the writers’ end.
I feel like this film kept making those kinds of misjudgments over and over again, which brings it back to the whole student film thing. I feel like when it comes to film school, not to say that’s what this is, I feel like film school does a great job teaching you the art of film, of cinematography, of smart practical uses for visuals, for great editing, and how music or sound plays into the film, but film school doesn’t have as much focus on the writing aspect. They teach you how to take any given story and make the best possible version of it for a film medium. However, if you don’t have the best writing, then no matter how great the film looks, it’ll still be imperfect. That’s how I ultimately feel about Summerland. It’s a film with some significantly lacking writing.
Well, what do I mean by that? First of all, it’s coming-of-age, which granted, hasn’t ever really been my favorite sub-genre. That being said, I can appreciate certain films because these are the types of movies that normally relish heavily on character development, which shouldn’t have ever been a problem here because this is a very small cast. There’s like three main characters, the crush, and some random guy the group keeps calling. That’s basically the entire cast. Yet, none of them have a ton of growth nor are very likeable. From the very beginning, you know very little about Summerland itself and why it’s so utterly important to every one of these guys, it just is, making the location a MacGuffin. Even way back with National Lampoon’s Vacation, Wally World was important in the same light, but you knew what made it so personal for the Griswold’s, made even more interesting by the fact that some wanted to go there, and some didn’t. It wasn’t so much of a MacGuffin as Summerland because it was developed. Summerland as a location wasn’t developed at all. As for these characters, none of them are super likeable because they’re all doing somewhat questionable things without much reason or growth. The main character is lying to the guy he supposedly really likes and catfishing him. His British best friend is also lying to his girlfriend. The girl in the film isn’t great or terrible, but she isn’t much of anything. She’s a nothing character. All three of them combined are apparently addicted to drugs and they won’t say no to any kind of strange new drug introduced to them. Everything is fair game, and why? What’s the point? I don’t have a huge problem with stoner comedies because usually the drugs in those films serve an additional purpose where the movie wouldn’t even work without the drugs, not so here. The drugs don’t do anything. They don’t add to the film’s plot; it’s just more random things to expand the runtime. It also made the characters less likeable than they already were.
Let’s take a look at my final score for a minute. From an unbiased, technical vantage point, this film isn’t bad. Like I said, they were smart when it came down to the art of film, but because writing and character development are both included with how I review the technical part of the movie, the score is still lower than what’s preferred at 58%, and because I was mostly annoyed with the lack of writing and because I didn’t personally like the characters that much, my personal biased score is lower at 46%, averaging everything out to the final score of 52%, 52 out of 100 possible stars, granting Summerland with a failing letter grade of F.
Sorry, I really did want to like this film because at the heart of the film, there’s a concept that I think holds a lot of promise, but the execution wasn’t perfect. Guys, let me know your thoughts on Summerland in the comments down below. Have you seen it, are you looking forward to it, and if you have, how would you score it? And as always, until next time…