Sometimes if a movie’s dialogue is particularly good it’s described as poetic.
In the case of “Summertime,” it really is. Carlos López Estrada’s feature follow-up to his powerful “Blindspotting” uses poetry and spoken-word performances, along with a little dance and music, to stitch together — albeit loosely — a day in the life of Los Angeles.
The 25 performers, some first-time actors, wrote their own pieces, so naturally, there is a tonal shift that can’t be fully smoothed out. Which is a good thing.
It’s experimental in the best way; Estrada takes chances, and not every segment works. But pieced together they tell a full and rich tale of a city and the people who live there, and the diversity of their stories. Estrada hasn’t set out to tell the ultimate LA tale (there are many). Yet by going small, he’s made a big film that’s richly rewarding.
Tyris Winter and Marquesha Babers give powerful performances
The film takes place in July 2019.
A few characters serve as a sort of through line. There’s Tyris (Tyris Winter), who wields Yelp reviews like a dagger on his surprisingly difficult search for a cheeseburger. But his quest also serves to illustrate the perils of gentrification, as well as the vulnerability beneath his swagger.
There’s also Anewbyss (Bryce Banks) and Rah (Austin Antoine), rappers who start the day performing on the street selling homemade CDs and end it absurdly successful and burned out on fame, offering their limo to the put-upon manager of the burger joint they wander into. Clearly, a strict adherence to realism isn’t what’s being offered here.
Sophia (Maia Mayor) can’t shake her ex-boyfriend and basically stalks him in an attempt to mend her broken heart — an exercise that, predictably, only makes things worse. She winds up meeting Marquesha (Marquesha Babers), who is reading a book her therapist recommended — written by her therapist.
Marquesha has the most intense and moving piece in the film when she confronts (at the suggestion of the therapist’s book) her ex-boyfriend, a real lout who body-shamed her. She starts out slowly, then becomes more intense, building her power bit by bit — reclaiming her power. It is a stunning performance, full of pain and anger and ultimately redemption.
Raul Herrera’s performance is the perfect cap for the film
Also moving is the last piece, performed by Raul (Raul Herrera), the limo driver. He spends time tooling around the city, an affable tour guide and host. He ends the trip with his limo perched on a hill above the city — the most conventionally touristy shot Estrada uses in the film, though plenty of others offer their own beauty.
He will give them his love and his time, he says, but must follow their dreams in return. “All I ask in return is that you fly.”
It’s a moving moment, the perfect cap to what is at heart a journey through parts of the city not always seen on film, a journey fueled by language — language that is spoken, sung, spat, whatever it takes to get the meaning across.
Estrada’s approach to uniting the stories is informal. Often the transition from one scene to the next is his camera following the person talking, who talks past someone else and then the focus is on them. Inelegant at times, but effective.
Some of the performances — Babers’ and Herrera’s in particular, but others, too — stand alone as individual stories. But together they’re much more powerful. It does take a little time to hook into the movie’s rhythms. Once you do, however, you’re hooked for the duration.
‘Summertime’ 4 stars
Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Carlos López Estrada.
Cast: Tyris Winter, Marquesha Babers, Raul Herrera.
Rating: R for language throughout and sexual references.
Note: In theaters July 9.
Reach Goodykoontz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.
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