Summer of 85 is well respected auteur François Ozon’s foray into the queer coming-of-age subgenre. Set in the mid-80s as the title indicates, Ozon leverages the sexually regressive past as a building block for family drama and young ignorance. All that coupled with a unique framing device Ozon attempts to tell a brimming, complex narrative in a concise 90-minute package.
While caught in a storm, Alexis (Félix Lefebvre) capsizes his boat only to be saved by David (Benjamin Voisin). That fateful encounter begins what will eventually become the most important romance of Alexis’s young life. Enchanted by David’s flirtatious nature, Alex spends all of his time with his crush including getting a job working at David and his mother’s (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) fishing shop. As the weeks go by, Alexis is eventually forced to understand that summer flings are fleeting in nature and that first loves never last for as long as we want.
Love stories are only as relatable as their actors can portray. Unfortunately for Summer of 85, stilted acting deprives the film of some of this relatability. Even when both boys give into their emotions in the story, the actors especially Lefebvre play everything guarded. This restraint works well when they figuratively dance around their feelings, but it becomes immersion breaking when the two are supposed to be in the throes of love. There is no vulnerability in Alexis’s character which is an essential component of a good coming-of-age story. This frigidness of character is further hampered by the films pacing. The six-week relationship between the boys is condensed to one montage a handful of scenes. The film’s short runtime means that these emotional moments were so fleeting that a few awkward takes stunted the film’s emotional core.
François Ozon understands that the queer coming-of-age drama is no longer a unique topic, so he expanded the premise beyond a traditional narrative by introducing a sprawling framing device to Summer of 85. While a fine decision in theory, some awkward acting and minimal romantic moments deprives the film of its heart. What’s left are countless scenes of Alexis talking about his lost love without showing a believable picture of the love in the first place.