With a narrative spanning over a decade, as well as being the first in an ambitious series of interconnected and surprisingly intricately plotted romance novels, the cinematic adaptation of the inaugural story in author Jay Bell’s “Something Like Summer” franchise was always going to be tough to translate to the big screen. Director David Berry, making his feature film debut, tries to further this ambition by transforming the story in to a musical, using a mix of original and famous tracks (by artists varying from Regina Spektor to Ne-Yo), that help document the increasing years and romantic entanglements of Benjamin Bentley (Grant Davis).
At the start of the film, Benjamin is an openly gay high school student in a conservative part of Texas, who has been casually stalking fellow student Tim Wyman (Davi Santos) throughout summer. The two have never spoken, but after accidentally injuring Tim, Ben finds an excuse to spend more time- and his flirtation with a supposedly straight guy soon turns in to a secret relationship, which Tim struggles hiding from his peers, as well as his strict catholic family. From there, we see the relationship woes of the pair develop, both separately and together, over the years that follow- leading from college well in to adult life.
Credit has to be given to Berry for choosing such an ambitious project for his debut feature – and for pulling out all the stops to make it even more ambitious than the source material required. It’s the kind of winning directorial gamble that makes me easily side with the film, even in the moments where the musical conceit (and in the first section of the film, the high school romance) tends to veer too far towards cheesiness for my taste. Which isn’t to say that this was a bad gamble – Grant Davis delivers stunning vocal performances throughout, and the use of pop balladry will ensure it is granted a place in the hearts of many teenage audiences looking for a gay romance that reflects their own hormonal, confused emotions.
Berry understands the needs of his target audience, using romantic tropes of many YA novels to tell a story specifically for underserved young, gay audiences, that feels truthful to the messiness of teenage emotions, as well as portraying an optimistic future rarely seen in the majority of gay fiction. It may not be as artistically rewarding as the best in the genre, but it’s more of a recommended watch to confused young audiences in need of the emotional reassurance (especially at such a turbulent time in their lives) many of the more adult-oriented LGBT films won’t provide. Seeing the different ways the central characters cope with their sexuality, and the issues that arise from staying in the closet, might help younger audiences come to terms with their own feelings.
It’s easy to be sniffy about a film with a premise involving stalking leading to romance, that also acts as a lovelorn musical- but this film wasn’t made for me, and the people this was made for are going to absolutely love it. After all, I can’t think of a single teen romance or fantasy in recent memory that didn’t turn a ludicrous premise in to a phenomenon. From a critical standpoint, it may not achieve the lofty heights of its ambition, but this is an incredibly noble attempt from David Berry. I know that it will be an important film for many of the young people watching it- and that factor alone is more significant than any of the reservations I have about it.
At a festival like Outfest, which shows a wide array of narratives across the LGBT spectrum, a work of unabashed, uncynical YA romance such as Something Like Summer stands out. David Berry has taken a complex storyline and transformed it into a genre bending coming of age tale that will live long in the memory. It may make a few artistic missteps- but it contains brilliantly likeable performances from the central cast, with the cheesy teen drama of the first half paying off in the more emotionally complex (and emotionally rewarding) second half where the cast well and truly get their time to shine. For older audiences, this interesting and unique film is well worth seeking out to see for yourself, but for younger audiences, it is definitely essential viewing.
Read our interview with producer J.T. Tepnapa