Review: Poetic verse finds narrative dead ends in 'Summertime'

A series of young spoken word poets find their voice in 'Summertime,' but there's little else holding the film together.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "Summertime," a diverse cross-section of young Los Angelenos express themselves through spoken word poetry, reacting to aggressions of the macro and micro variety through performative verses. 

It's an ambitious experiment that doesn't pay off. For one, the poets aren't actors by trade, and most come off stilted on camera. But moreso, director Carlos López Estrada — whose simmering "Blindspotting" better integrated spoken word poetry into narrative storytelling — is unable to create a convincing or otherwise engaging story as a backdrop for his performers to do their thing. It's simply one verse after the next, the scenes barely held together by any sort of glue outside of the loose day-in-the-life-of-LA framework.

Tyris Winter in "Summertime."

In one scene, a man on a bus asks a middle aged queer couple to refrain from showing public displays of affection; there are children on board for heaven's sakes, he argues. His words prompt a reaction from one of the passengers (Mila Cuda, one of the more than two dozen contributors who perform in the movie and are credited with co-authoring the script) who monologues him down with a piece titled "Hey, I'm Gay," prompting the passengers around her to erupt in applause and the offender to practically jump from the moving bus. Bye-bye, bro.

As he leaves, the camera briefly follows him down the sidewalk as he makes his way to his destination. Maybe he has a story to tell, a reason why his views are the way they are? But no, the camera veers off him and onto another character whose values are more in line with those of the film. "Summertime" isn't interested in anything more than one-dimensional characterizations, and it's the young, fab enlightened poets vs. everybody else, even though that implies more of a conflict than ever makes it to the screen.

The film's most interesting character is Tyris Winter, who just can't seem to find a hamburger in L.A., a quest which leads him on a daylong journey across the gentrifying city. He finds his voice and his power through Yelp reviews, which he wields like weapons against the establishments changing beneath his feet. Winter's presence briefly lifts "Summertime" out of its narrative doldrums. But he might not want to read the reviews.




Rated R: for language throughout and sexual references

Running time: 90 minutes

In theaters