Summertime (2020), directed by Carlos López Estrada, does a terrific job of feeling like Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1990) with Estrada’s touch to add a message that really lands. A unique film in that its stars – Tyris Winter, Marquesha Babers, Maia Mayor, Austin Antoine, Bryce Banks, Lee Blankenship, Bene’t Benton, Gordon Ip, and Jason Alvarez – all receive writing credits, as the poems they speak throughout this unique take on a musical are their own. There are more names listed for screenplay than given as stars – but the intersecting vignettes (hence the Slacker comparison) pay off thematically, taking the audience on an emotional journey.
I was turned onto Slacker because of Kevin Smith’s autobiography, and his attribution to Linklater’s form as inspiration that would lead to Clerks (1994). Naturally, being a Kevin Smith nerd, I sought out Slacker. I liked it, and appreciated what Linklater was doing – but I didn’t really connect with the film emotionally. That is why Summertime stands out to me. There is something to these characters and their real poems that brings something to this format that didn’t click for me when I saw Slacker.
There are many amazing poems that are showcased in this film. An easy pairing to discuss is the rappers, Anewbyss (Bryce Banks) and Rah (Austin Antoine), whose story is one we have all seen before. Perhaps not in the span of a single day as portrayed here, but in the rags-to-riches dream that all musicians look to achieve. The first time these two appear, they are busking and hoping to make a name for themselves. It is an entertaining introduction that effectively establishes their friendship. We will see them go through the progression (I’ll leave out the details to avoid spoilers) over the course of the film and each seen pays off in a different way.
There were two specific characters who ended up being my favorites. Marquesha (Marquesha Babers), being the first, is introduced very early in the film. Like many of the characters, she shows up a few times – but her impact on the overall film is only alluded to. However, once she gets her moment, she absolutely kills it. I watched in stunned silence as Marquesha bared her soul to the camera and the cast around her in a spoken word poem that kicked me in my gut and forced the water from my tear ducts. Moments after, I found myself bursting out in laughter as I was still wiping tears from my eyes. That laugh was earned by Tyris (Tyris Winter).
One could argue that Tyris is the main character, as he gets much more to do, including a MacGuffin. He’s definitely bringing a comedic element to the film throughout, but he also gets to show his other side: an amateur critic who takes to the net to voice his opinions on pretty much any place he visits, ensuring his blog format is used effectively. He bares his soul to his cell phone late in the film, allowing the audience to see the depth of his character and explain his drive for his personal quest for his holy grail.
There are many other great poems and characters in this film, but I won’t go into all of them. It is impossible to not care for the individuals presented here. They take you from laughing to crying multiple times throughout the journey. For a film featuring either non-actors or at least up-and-coming ones, they really find their footing, and deliver incredibly vulnerable performances. Watching Summertime is one of those moments where at first, you may question if this movie will pull you in – and by the end, you’re surrounded by used tissues with bloodshot eyes, cheeks wet, and yet somehow a smile spread across your face. For me, it’s a no-brainer that Summertime earns the Must See rating.