Premise: During their last days of summer and childhood — the weekend before middle school begins — four girls struggle with the harsh truths of growing up and embark on a mysterious adventure.

James Ponsoldt’s Summering is a peculiar coming of age drama with some slight genre leanings that spring up seemingly out of nowhere. The film is very clearly a riff on Stand By Me, but it doesn’t have the nuance or even the sense of direction that Rob Reiner’s classic film had. Not by a long shot. Instead, Summering is a tonal mess as the characters are haunted by visions of a dead man whose body they discover and (inexplicably) decide to move and desecrate. Again, this is a coming of age drama, so these genre trappings seem completely random and do not fit well in the narrative at all.

It’s the waning days of summer before a tight-knit group of four young girls start middle school. As insecurities about social status mount and fears about the possibility of friendships ending reach the surface, the girls discover a dead body in the woods near their favorite hangout spot. The experience (sort of an inverse of Stand By Me‘s central premise) leads the girls down a path of mystery as they try to figure out the identity of the man and the method of death.

Summering doesn’t do much to justify the logic behind the girls’ decision to conceal the body and try to learn what happened. It isn’t even explained away in a “kids being kids” way. Their decision to look into the man’s death is only necessitated by a need for plot that the script is simply too lazy to properly construct. There is also minimal resolution for character moments and plot threads throughout the film’s lean 87 minute runtime. The danger of consequence is merely hinted at through bland, first draft dialogue that makes it hard to feel anything resembling fear or tension for the characters anywhere in the film.

The underlying themes of loss of innocence and growing into young adults are also handled haphazardly. One character’s father issues reach a dramatic climax during a group seance the girls put together. However, it comes abruptly and doesn’t carry the weight the story needs it to in order to be memorable. Instead, it’s a footnote in a cluttered mess of a story its filmmaker has no idea how to tell. The dialogue is injected with a level of awkwardness that feels like co-writers Ponsoldt and Benjamin Percy have no idea how young girls talk and interact with one another. 

The lack of confidence in the writing comes through in the performances as well. Even the adult actors seem to phone-in their performances as they blankly recite their lines with no real eye for subtext or emotion. The child actors who make up the central quartet also fail at giving convincing performances. Underwhelming performances by child actors are a dime a dozen, however, and as such the fault cannot solely land at the actors’ feet. Simply put, the performances make it hard to imagine a scenario in which Ponsoldt cried “Action!” on set, watched a take, and asked to go again. Nearly every scene feels like a lazily rehearsed first stab at what’s written on the page.

Despite it’s numerous faults, Summering isn’t a maliciously bad film by any real stretch of the imagination. It will go down as a forgettable entry in 2022’s film register when all is said and done and all involved will move onto whatever their next project is. One hopes Ponsoldt will go back to helming well-received character dramas more in-line with his previous works like The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour. And hopefully the young actors in Summering will go onto projects with filmmakers who know how to guide their performances. Summering sadly doesn’t have much going for it.

Summering opens in theaters August 12, 2022.

About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive ViewerAnthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.