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" Me? Boil water? "
— [Jacqueline], Ever After

MRQE Top Critic

Mr. Bean's Holiday

When you love a movie that earns 50% on the Tomatometer, it's safer to call it a "guilty pleasure" —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

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In its most raw moments, Summertime displays a powerful and rare level of authenticity.

Get Lit

Marquesha Babers
Marquesha Babers

The setting is Los Angeles, 2019.

No. It’s not Blade Runner.

Summertime takes place in July, not November.

But, even so, the movies have a common theme: the search for belonging, acceptance and a meaningful life. And, as foretold nearly 40 years ago in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, people are mashing languages together in something bordering on “citysepak,” the gutter talk mish-mash spoken by Edward James Olmos’ character.

Summertime was filmed over the course of 17 days in July and August of 2019. Supposedly the narrative action takes place over the course of a single day, but that would then mean a couple rappers go from hawking CDs to headlining a show within a matter of hours. At the very worst, consider it poetic license.

That’s all the more fitting, given the bulk of the cast in Summertime has never “acted” before. The movie features 25 young (as in either still in high school or recently graduated) poets and musicians from the Los Angeles area and their talent is formidable. Throw in the traditional Hollywood clout that comes from working on successful Disney projects — director Carlos Lopez Estrada was one of the helmers of Disney’s animated Raya and the Last Dragon and co-producer Kelly Marie Tran starred as Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi — and this movie becomes something of a mini miracle.

Sure Step

A lot of the loosely connected narrative tracks alongside In the Heights, a story set on the other coast that also digs deep into personal and cultural identity but — with its roster of big-name talent that includes the marquee name of Lin-Manuel Miranda — the movie with all those Broadway tunes doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as this one with the spoken-word poetry. And Summertime packs a punch on more than one occasion.

As with In the Heights, there isn’t a traditional antagonist here. In Summertime, the metaphorical “Man” everybody wants to stick it to is replaced with inner demons, social pressures, opposing views and a dismissive society.

To that end, Summertime is a call to action for acceptance, both by the general public and oneself.

Arguably, the rawest moment comes when Marquesha Babers confronts her heartbreaker, a shallow, callous guy who’s dismissed her because of her heavyset figure. Her words and her performance come straight from the heart.

But there’s also Tyris Winter, who at first appears to be the narrative tissue that connects the disparate stories by way of his quest to find a cheeseburger. But his disappointment with his friends’ preoccupation with other matters leads to another of Summertime’s powerful vignettes when Tyris reveals his orientation while speaking about a sense of abandonment by family and friends.

Marquesha and Tyris’ stories are full of pain and reveal the humanity that is the common ground of us all. And they’re joined by other stories — such as an Asian with 4.0 grade point average who’s working for minimum wage at a burger joint and looking for his way out to something more meaningful. Along those lines, there is a slightly anti-capitalist bent to some of the viewpoints, but for that there’s a simple solution: plenty of people in Cuba would be delighted to trade places with any one of these artists and bear their burden in the U.S.

Clouds

"Anewbyss and Rah"
“Anewbyss and Rah”

Summertime captures a generation enduring a level of anger and angst, but there’s also an optimistic component that suggests things will be better. Perseverance is key.

To that end, there’s the story of Anewbyss and Rah, the aforementioned rappers who gather a fan base and headline a show. As one of their songs goes, “Tell Mama I’m going to make it, just need a little more time.” Even so, they provide a reality check that fame isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

And so the quest continues — to aim for something higher.

The cast grows and the scope of their stories broadens from a relaxing summertime morning by the ocean right on through to a late-evening ride in a party limo. With Raul Herrera (Get Lit’s Education Coordinator) as their driver, many of these poets and artists are treated to a hillside view of the L.A. skyline as it’s showered in fireworks. And there are Herrera’s words, which paint a verbal picture of taking flight — like the ground’s on fire — and, with a pocketful of dreams, spread your wings. Don’t let time take you, he advises, you take time.

With all that raw emotion laid bare, some of the dialogue is a little coarse, hence the movie’s “R” rating, which is in some respects a little unfortunate. The price of that authenticity is — perhaps — the exclusion of audiences either too young or too sensitive.

But, as it stands, Summertime is truly a cinematic work of art. In addition to all the poetry and music — including work by Mila Cuda (former Poet Laureate of the West Coast) and Maia Mayor (host of the Git Lit Globe web series) — the movie features murals painted by 30 L.A. artists.

With a platform-spanning effort such as that, it’s not necessary to agree with or appreciate everything on tap, but there is certainly a message or two here that can apply to everybody.