Three years removed from his breakthrough film and indictment of Oakland gentrification Blindspotting, director Carlos López Estrada sets his sights a few hundred miles south for another story of the underrepresented in an increasingly white city. While Blindspotting sported a traditional narrative structure, in Summertime, Estrada channels his experiences directing music videos for a more multimedia viewing experience. Jumping between dozens of characters, the film intertwines poetry, music, and dance for a unique storytelling medium.
Taking place over a single day in L.A., the film is an ensemble production of 25 people just trying to get by in a town that increasingly caters to the upper class. Each person deals with their own personal struggles and breaks into a revelatory poem when pushed beyond what they can endure. Tensions build for each character until many of the plotlines come to a head in a Smiley’s burger joint where a surprise visit, from the only characters who have aged more than a day, delivers an over-the-top ending to the film.
Can a gimmick make a movie? There is a lot to enjoy in Summertime. The poetry is moving and well performed, and the standout dance scene staring women in red dresses is beautiful. However, as a film, Summertime feels slight. A complex narrative is not necessary for a film to be successful, but this film is lacking in any depth. The excessive scope of the film leaves little time for nuance; each character is simplified down to one or two quirks that could be shared in the five minutes on screen that everyone gets. The poetry does offer some thematic continuity, but the film never stops feeling like a collection of Estrada’s music videos.
Estrada desired to create a fully unique film in Summertime, and in that he succeeded. The collection of poems is a strong basis, and the musicality of the productions flows well. Unfortunately, the film’s lack of depth results in it having little staying power. The themes are oversimplified and the screenplay, outside of the poetry, is exceedingly clunky. Summertime is an enjoyable watch in the moment, but one that inevitably leaves the viewer hungry for something more substantial.