It’s taken a while for her to get there, but Joey King’s finally made a movie that cements her growing girl-who-wants-to-be-bad reputation.
No “Kissing Booth” this time. With “Summer ’03” she goes full Aubrey Plaza.
I’d say watching “Summer ’03” will send you straight to Hell, but who believes in that?
It’s one long “trigger warning” of a coming-of-age (sex) comedy, sexually charged (and explicit), virulently anti-Catholic and tone-deaf as only Hollywood can be.
“Wait, you mean throwing a ‘libidinous Jewess’ stereotype at a cute-young seminary student in a lose-your-‘mouth-virginity’ farce ISN’T mainstream? Huh.”
King (“Slender Man”) is pouty, pert Jamie, a 16 year-old Cincinnatan/Cincinnatite who, in 2003, was deep into Harry Potter, sexually curious and waiting for Grandma to die.
But before she does, Granny (June Squibb, funny enough in a hospital bed) wants to get a few things off her chest. Little cousin Dylan? She’s sure you’re a homosexual and could be “fixed.” Dad (Paul Scheer)? I never told you who your REAL father was.
And Jamie, even though your mother (Andrea Savage) is “a dirty Jew…I had you BAPTIZED without you knowing” so you won’t “go to Hell.”
OK. And one more thing, the secret to a happy life as a woman?
“Learn to give a good blow” you-know-what.
The whole family is hurled into a tailspin, with Dad dashing off to find who created him, foul-mouthed Mom having to plan a Catholic funeral for a woman she hated, who hated her very existence, troubled young Dylan (Logan Medina) acting-out a never-punished runaway fantasy (he is 12 and keeps stealing car keys and trying to drive off).
Jamie? She’s best-buds with new-student Emily (Kelly Lamor Wilson). “She came from Los Angeles, where the girls are MUCH faster,” thus she might be able to act on Grandma’s edict, drawing on Emily’s vastly-superior knowledge of all things sexual.
Movies of this teen sex genre have taken, in recent years, to giving us graphic oral sex demonstrations, and writer-director Becca Gleason knows a good “How to” idea “for you girls out there” when she steals it.
But who will Jamie try out her new “power” with? Friendly neighbor boy March (Stephen Ruffin) or the priest-in-training (Jack Kilmer) whom she meets and has dirty Hogwarts fantasies about?
Which one would be more wildly inappropriate? Which one seems to have no trouble heading for trouble when he takes in Ms. Wear a Tight, Low-Cut little Black Dress to Sunday Mass? I mean, “No vows YET, right?”
Endless voice-over narration is a tried, true and trite cinematic device, and it’s trotted out here. No sense putting Jamie’s discovery that the very old “lose whatever filters they had” or “the control and power” she feels in acting on what granny was telling her to master when you can just have the star sit in a recording booth and read it.
Lazy. Cinema is a visual and active medium. If you can’t SHOW it, why include it? If you’ve shown it, why hammer the point home with voice-over?
For instance, when Jamie wonders why she hasn’t gotten a call, if she’s got the image of “hard to get” when “I’m EASY to get,” we’ve already gotten that message. We don’t need it narrated.
Women are writing and directing a lot of today’s female-centric teen sex comedies, which lends the imprimatur of “empowerment” to what has traditionally been an objectifying, crude and sexist male-dominated genre quite-rightly labeled “horny teenager” movies.
Attempts to make “Summer ’03” transcend that genre are all over the place, flirting with serious subject matter (Kids have to learn about anti-Semitism somewhere, right?) but lapsing into genre conventions, letting story threads unravel.
While “Summer” is lightly amusing, here and there, it treads heavily on some pretty slippery ground. Gleason makes all the checkpoints that the plot passes through feel perfunctory. Of COURSE the young priest won’t hesitate in playing with fire. March? Totally undeveloped as a character, as is Emily. Only Savage’s intense, infuriated mother stands out in the rest of the cast.
When Jamie’s Mom lets slip “You’re not the only one this has happened to” re the unholy fooling around, she’s referencing the then-just-emerging Catholic sex abuse scandals that have since swept the planet. But is that really a suitable subject for a teen sex comedy?
The culture has shifted, and one way teen movies have reflected that in just the past couple of years is the profanity and frank-to-the-edge-of-crude sex talk parents and other adults in these films have in their conversations with teens. But even in church? And who Gleason has doing all this cursing and blowing is pretty tone-deaf, too.
King is an interesting young actress who is making the most of her emerged “lady shape,” as she called it in the Netflix summer phenomenon “The Kissing Booth.” She’s not limiting what she chooses to film, but she is staking a “new Chloe Grace Moretz/Bella Thorne” claim to a genre — sexing it up like there’s no tomorrow.
Aiming to be ogled seems like taking the low road. Sure, when you make sex your brand, the kids tune in by the score when this one hits Netflix (very soon, I’d guess).
But then what?
MPAA Rating: unrated, sexual situations, teen drinking, profanity
Credits: Written and directed by Becca Gleason. A Blue Fox release.
Running time: 1:35