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‘Summer ’03’ is a welcome addition to films exploring complex teen girl protagonists

Written by: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer


We have been somewhat spoiled of late when it comes to quality movies exploring the coming-of-age of teenage girls – The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015), The Edge of Seventeen (2016) and Lady Bird (2017) have been some recent excellent examples and it is no coincidence that each of these films were written and directed by women, who unsurprisingly have some insight into this subject matter. Now comes Summer ’03 from writer-director Becca Gleason, making her debut feature with this tale of a 16 year old girl whose entire family is rocked by the death-bed revelations of her Grandmother. Jamie (The Kissing Booth‘s Joey King) spends the summer exploring her faith and her sexuality, as she tries to come to terms with the advice of a dying woman. She pushes the boundaries of her relationships with both friends and family, driven by those self-destructive teen impulses that many of us can relate to.

Dotty (June Squibb) is an elderly Catholic woman, dying in hospital, who has secrets, advice and wisdom to impart to her family before she shuffles off the mortal coil. She tells her granddaughter that despite Jamie being half-Jewish – but not raised religiously – Dotty secretly had Jamie baptised into the Catholic faith as a baby. Dotty tells her son (Jamie’s father) Ned (Paul Scheer) that the person he thought was his father actually wasn’t. Dotty also tells her grandson (Jamie’s cousin) Dylan (Logan Medina) that he is homosexual and that he should try to ‘get himself fixed’. Dotty’s parting shot and final word of advice for Jamie is “learn how to give a good blow job.” So, armed with this information, Jamie spends the rest of the summer dealing with the fact she is a secret Catholic and that she needs to practice oral sex. Jamie decides to kill two birds with one stone and gives a priest-in-training Luke (Jack Kilmer) a blow job.

Summer ’03 starts with a beautifully shot, dream-like montage reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides which successfully evokes the hazy days of summer, where the days all run into one another. There are many shots of shafts of sunlight through swimming pools or droplets from sprinklers sparkling in lens flare – you can feel the warmth of the sun dapples and the thrill of stolen kisses and illicit sips of beer as you watch. The score also adds to the woozy atmosphere of illusory impressionism, with its piano urging Jamie on in her ill-advised adventures. The film treats its ‘period’ setting (of 15 years ago) with a light touch – it could have gone to town more with more obvious soundtrack choices, but the subtle approach works well. There are little visual nods like an Orlando Bloom poster in Jamie’s bedroom, and the shoes which are as chunky as the cell phones. These notes are small highlights, rather than beating the audience with a stick of 2003 based artifacts.

The performances in Summer ’03 are strong across the board, particularly from the younger cast members. Joey King is increasingly becoming one to watch and she is willing to lay herself bare to characters who are flawed, sexy and real. It is delightful to see Erin Darke, who was so good in the unfairly cancelled Amazon series Good Girls Revolt as Jamie’s Aunt Hope. Son of Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley – Jack Kilmer shows promise as the conflicted Luke and Logan Medina is excellent as the music-loving Dylan who repeatedly and understandably tries to escape the shit-storm that his Grandmother has created in his family.

The plot is over-the-top and extreme and it definitely gets a little too ridiculous at times. The sub-plot involving Ned finding his real father could have been dispensed with. However, the dialogue is very funny and authentic. Jamie is a believable teenager and her narration guides us through the craziness, grounding it in reality. It is refreshing to see a complex teen girl character, who absolutely does mess up and badly so, but retains our empathy by being relatable. Gleason has clearly taken great care with both the visuals and the soundscape and she successfully portrays a summer as seen through the eyes of a teenager – it is just nostalgic enough, without being sentimental. Summer ’03 is a worthy addition to the coming-of-age genre and the world needs more stories of teenage girls, as told by women.

Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Author: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer

Brit living in Southern California.
Former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Current film writer for jumpcutonline.com, moviejawn.com and others.

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