A Missed Opportunity - A Review of Netflix's The Last Summer

A Missed Opportunity - A Review of Netflix's The Last Summer

Multiple threads flow through this coming-of-age story designed for twenty-first-century audiences, trying to give us a taste of kids' last summer before college.

Many of us who have spent any amount of time watching film have been blessed to see such coming-of-age wonders as Sixteen Candles or My Girl. In modern times, Netflix has managed to produce period-perfect classics such as Sex Education and Stranger Things. That's why it's challenging to figure out what went through the company's mind when they created something like The Last Summer. There may be an open spot for a "new classic" for the twenty-teens to offer perspective into the minds of the modern teenager, but this movie certainly isn't it. While it does have its moments of chemistry and plays with a few major themes that affect teenagers, the film is overall not one that presents itself as worth watching twice, and for some people, not even worth watching once.

Summer Jobs, Parties, and College?

The Last Summer

While it's easy to see what they were going for in the development of this movie, a lot of it feels like someone who only has a vague idea of teenagers and what they go through currently created a film and just stuck some dialog into it that he or she thought should fit. You get a lot of moments where the statements of the characters don't reflect on who the audience understands them to be. There's a quite touching bonding scene where Griffin (K.J. Apa) and Phoebe (Maia Mitchell) explore the alumni of their potential colleges amidst their light banter between one another. Why it seems odd is that it's likely that most kids today don't know or even care who graduated from their potential college - their main goal is to get there and saddle themselves with immense debt. The Last Summer delivers a fantastic premise in seeing how teenagers grow up and come of age in the twenty-first century, but boy does it fall short on delivery.

Script - 4/10

The Last Summer

Like a lot of movies of this type, pinning the text down usually takes a little bit of time because there are several threads that we follow. We follow the budding romance of Griffin (K.J. Apa) and Phoebe (Maia Mitchell) and the complications that surround it. Then we switch over to Alec (Jacob Latimore) and Foster (Wolfgang Novogratz) as they work over the summer, with each having their own individual story. Alec also has some unfinished business with Erin (Halston Sage), and their premature breakup leads to both sides learning lessons about moving on too quickly. Erin's best friend Audrey (Sosie Bacon) learns a valuable lesson about where she wants to be in life by virtue of her summer job. Finally, eternally uncool geeks Chad (Jacob McCarthy) and Reece (Mario Revolori) try to get laid before summer ends in a throwback to Revenge of the Nerds. There is one character that seems to interact with all of the others in Mason (Norman Johnson Jr.), but his appearances feel more like guest spots rather than offer a compelling story and motivation. The convoluted script is made less palatable as few of the characters have overarching stories and barely run into one another making you sometimes wonder if they ever exist in the same city. Added to that the stilted lines and the poor understanding of what kids talk about or how they text to each other and you have a script that's borderline cringe-inducing.

Cast -  6/10

The Last Summer

There were few problems with the casting, and most, if not all of the characters suited the actors chosen to play them. In breaking down the individual characters, it's easy to see that every single one of them, despite their lack of age, have a ton of experience behind their careers. If anything, this experience saves some of the vignettes and makes them borderline passable. The one thing that does stick out in stark contrast to the perfect choice of actors is the words those actors use in character. The characters themselves feel a bit forced, even though that isn't the fault of the actors portraying them. While these characters are (supposedly) kids, the actors playing them are excellent in their delivery.

Pacing - 7/10

Because we have to see a few different story arcs, the pacing of each one is crucial to the success of the film. While it does manage to make the pacing seem effortless in some cases, in others it drags. In the Alc/Erin arc, we find ourselves feeling sorry for Alec, but the time we spend seeing him be miserable around his new girlfriend detracts from moving his own character motivation forward. While it's not a significant problem and the action runs smoothly in the vast majority of cases, the few momentary lapses in pacing are pretty glaring and serve to highlight the disjointedness of the other stories. The movie tries to build along the same lines as modern teen dramas like Riverdale do, but in trying to do this in a film with limited running time, it lets the forward momentum of the piece drag unnecessarily in between story arcs without actually giving us either character or plot development.

Composition - 4/10

The Last Summer

This film could have been something great, a work of art, a memorial to a generation. Instead, we get a film that seems cobbled together, slapdash in its treatment of characters and nowhere near as impressive as the premise suggests it should be. The disjointed story arcs feel like they should have been stitched together, if not by deeper relationships between characters, then by similar themes or goals. The only thing the different characters have in common is that they're both sharing the last summer before college together. The romance is awkward (as expected), but the comedy is flat, the drama is contrived, and the setting makes one wonder what sort of "perfect world" suburb these kids live in. It feels more like a fantasy than a reflection on the reality of kids today, and because of that key point, it fails to resonate.

Overall - 5/10

The Last Summer

There are moments when The Last Summer seeks to impress us and tries to do something different. As much as it tries to do so, it fails on most attempts. The movie can be a fun watch if you don't take it seriously and see it as a fantasy story about a handful of teens living in the suburb of Nowhere, Chicago, but if for a moment you think about the premise, the whole thing crumbles like a poorly plastered facade. There are many ways to handle a coming-of-age story, but every single one of them whether plot-driven or character-driven, all feel believable and realistic in its setting. This film has the taste of one made by someone who only vaguely understands the world around them and how teenagers interact with that world.

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