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#InsideOut21 Review: Summertime

June 3, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The 2021 Inside Out Film Festival is running virtually from May 27th to June 6th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Ontario

Directed by Carlos López Estrada, Summertime is a sprawling, at times inspiring film that follows a wide-ranging mix of young people over a single summer day in Los Angeles. The hook is that it mainly unfolds through spoken-word poetry, and exists to provide a showcase for over two dozen young artists, many of them queer and people of colour.

This is Estrada’s sophomore feature following his commanding 2018 debut film Blindspotting, which also powerfully utilized a spoken word element in its last act. It’s a much looser effort that generally lacks the charged focus of that film, unfolding more as a series of vignettes, not all of which are equally successful. Like a lot of multi-character dramas, Summertime is a bit of a hodge-podge in this way, with some of the storylines being far more engaging than others.

The film was inspired by a spoken-word showcase of local high school students, who appear as versions of themselves here, and it feels a bit like watching a talent show strung together with a loose narrative through-line. The film starts off feeling like sort of an L.A.-set riff on Richard Linklater’s Austen, Texas classic Slacker, with each subsequent scene branching off to follow someone who was introduced in the previous one, but it brings some of its subjects into sharper focus as it goes along.

One of the recurring subjects who helps tie the plot together is a young Black, queer man played by Tyris Winter, whose defining character trait are the Yelp reviews that he leaves for restaurants dependent on the service that he gets. His introduction in the film is actually pretty shallow, showing his entitled and quite frankly obnoxious attempts to get out of paying for his overpriced meal at a gentrified restaurant that no longer sells the hamburgers that he used to order there. But he also delivers one of the film’s most intimate and poignant moments later on.

The character’s quest to find a hamburger serves as a sort of narrative through-line that does pay off, and helps set the stage for one of its best moments; a rousing countertop speech by a disgruntled fast food worker (Gordon Ip). At other times the film is overly ambitious, including a fantasy dance number in the middle of the street. We also follow Anewbyss (Bryce Banks) and Rah (Austin Antoine), aspiring rappers whose story appears to be unfolding on a separate timeline, since they appear to go from rags to riches over the course of the day.

Because Summertime is such an eclectic assemblage of different voices, with each of the subjects writing their own monologues and spoken-word pieces, it feels a bit uneven. But the highs, many of which come in the film’s second half, are high enough to make it worth seeing. It starts a bit rough and takes a little while to take shape, but there are some moments of raw power here, and the film ends up somewhere pretty magical.

Tyris Winter and Gordon Ip in Summertime

Summertime will be available to stream until June 6th at 11:59 PM. Tickets and more information can be found right here.

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