Sundance 2020 – Summertime

One of my favorite scenes (there are many) in 22 Jump Street is when Jonah Hill’s character Schmidt tries to be cool and pretend that he can do slam poetry, which of course he can’t. He’s just making shit up that rhymes and pretending it has deep meaning. He has lyrics like “Cynthia….Jesus died for our SIN-thias.” highlighting how terrible and fake most slam poetry is. It’s hysterical. I’ve linked to the scene below for your viewing pleasure. Now imagine watching really terrible poetry by filmmakers and talent who aren’t aware that it’s terrible for 90 minutes, because that’s what Summertime is. I never want to watch this film again. 

The latest from director Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting) follows a group of teens – who all act out the poetry they wrote for this film – in Los Angeles as their multiple narratives intertwine. I was looking forward to this because Estrada’s last film, Blindspotting, is fucking amazing. While this new film retains his sense of hyper-kinetic direction, it is focused on people largely with no talent for the screen. You almost wouldn’t know it’s made by the same guy who made a film as great as Blindspotting. It fits into the category of films where 5-10 minutes in I just go “Oh no…how long is this movie?” 

The dread sank in almost immediately as a teenager starts rhyming about his yelp reviews because he doesn’t want to pay for the expensive toast he ordered. When he is served the toast, he says “On God?” in the most obnoxious “This is how the kids talk, right?” way. That’s where this movie starts. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be a dick to kids, but most of the kids are awful actors, and even at best still bad poets. Reality TV can sell line delivery better than 80% of this film. Some of these sequences are just groaningly insufferable, it makes the 22 Jump Street scene sound like quality poetry. You just don’t buy a second of it, and for the most part it’s hard to care about what they’re rhyming about when it’s delivered so inept of any sense of dramatic or comedic timing. It’s just a reminder that there’s a lot of bad poetry out there that gets passed as good because we don’t know any better. 

There are a few segments that do shine though, one in particular of a couple in couples therapy who rap and sing about their disdain and hurt, and the therapist hands them a book she wrote called “How to Rap-Battle your Demons”. Just trust me, it’s a genuinely funny scene. And for some reason the recurring gag of this kid named Jason going around tagging spots with graffiti just reading “City of Jason” had me laughing if only for the simplicity and innocence of the gag. Gordon Ip is perhaps the only cast member who has legitimate screen talent, his rhyming was the only one that held my attention and didn’t make me groan. He’s genuinely funny when the script calls for it too. 

For the most part, it’s a lot like the musical Hamilton in that it’s only for middle-aged white people to watch and tell themselves “Now that’s what I call culture!” For the most part, it’s one of the most pretentious works I’ve seen in a minute. It is relentlessly self-absorbed with already some of the worst acting I’ll see this year. Like Schmidt in 22 Jump Street, they’re just making up shit that rhymes and pretending it’s important. But I mean, what the fuck else was I gonna do with my time? Go try to catch a screening of the Taylor Swift documentary that’s going to be on Netflix before the festival is even over? This was still less of a waste of my time than that would’ve been, I’ll give it that.

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