film review: summertime
A still from Summertime (2021)
Infusing passionate heart and soul into every frame, director Carlos López Estrada masters the art of intersecting storylines in his lyrical film Summertime. Following his directorial debut Blindspotting, Estrada sets Summertime in Los Angeles and gives a voice to dozens of young Angelinos as their lives cross paths over the course of a single day. Through spoken word poetry, these young poets are the writers and stars of their own individual segments. They each have the space to move candidly and experiment in prose. An abundance of personalities share different expressions of love, fear, home, family, friendship, dreams, frustrations, powerlessness, capitalism, heartache. What do all of these words mean to them? Each segment demands attention, as the poets’ souls are laid bare. Estrada’s direction is so exuberant in celebrating community, showing the strengths of truthful expression, and seeks creativity in everyday moments. Summertime finds beautiful rhythm in the authenticity of uniquely talented performers.
With the blessing of a fluent narrative, the poets float in and out of each other’s stories. Summertime propels forward in a breeze. Estrada captures that feeling of life passing you by, of suddenly waking up one day and wondering where all the time has gone. As well, the film contrasts life’s chaotic haste with moments of creative pause. Each musical segment is a powerful rumination, pouring from the hearts of those performing them. While naturally some performers are stronger than others, it’s incredibly fulfilling to watch a community of talent brought together and sharing in their stories. Summertime feels like such an ode to the human spirit. Pulsating with energy at every turn while finding resonating, grounded moments to shine a light on harsh realities. Estrada lets this community and their surroundings guide the flow with a spring in their steps.
The intersecting storylines of Summertime give the film a wonderful ebb and flow, to the point where it feels like one big stream of consciousness with multiple little threads. Each individual segment is a strong creative burst of personality. Some shine stronger; the standout performer here goes to Marquesha Babers, whose incredible piece confronting her ex is a force of nature. A towering achievement where time stops, and this intimate moment Babers shares becomes all-absorbing. Another great standout is Gordon Ip’s piece as a fast-food worker fed up with a toxic environment and the entitlement of customers. His segment unites some of the poets seen throughout the film, and propels Summertime to a wonderful moonlit ending full of emotional (and literal) fireworks.
While there are dips in quality from one segment to the next, all the spoken word performances feel connected on the same wavelength and basking in the warmth that creative expression brings to the soul. Art brings people together. Music brings people together. The form of expression holds a mirror through which many can see themselves in, feeling seen and heard. The constant shifting from one segment to another in Summertime gets messy often, but speaks to the ups and downs of creating. By the end of the film, watching all the poets listen to the final piece together hits hard. The sense of unity and understanding in this moment, a piece about dreams and reclaiming power over time, has a resounding emotional core. The film takes control of time by giving each performer the opportunity to “fly like the ground is on fire.” Time does not fly. The poets do, and their varied forms of expression carry them to creative heights in Carlos López Estrada’s melodic work of art.
Watch Summertime on Apple TV/iTunes when it releases digitally October 5 in Canada.
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