The “coming of age/first summer romance” hallmarks are all over “Last Summer,” a Turkish take on a Hollywood staple.
Period piece, like “Dirty Dancing” and “The Way Way Back” and many others? Check. Beach resort with lots of skin and a skimpy swimwear? Oh yes. Dance clubs soundtracked with the music of the day? Check. First booze, first cigarette, lots of talk of “virginity” and losing it?
“Innocent” teen crushing on an older might-be-lover? Sure. Hey, it’s set in 1996, a “pre-Erdogan” secular “sexy” summer, so why not?
But Ozan Açiktan’s film is so chaste it plays as a melodramatic tease. The situations may be familiar, but the payoffs are tepid, the resolution to the romantic threads, too safe and muted.
Deniz (Fatih Berk Sahin) and his family have come to Bodrum for their long, annual vacation. He’s 16 or so, a late bloomer the other kids used to tease as “Pac-Man” for his “baby fat.” Now he’s a tall, lean, athletic swimmer. He’s got peers he can catch up with every summer here.
But his ready-for-college sister Ebru (Aslihan Malbora) isn’t as bothered when he hangs with her and her friends. Until her BFF Alsi (Halit Özgür Sari) starts making a LOT of “Lookit you, all grown up” remarks. He is flattered by the attention, and smitten.
Thus begins his summer-long ache, diving off “dangerous” cliffs to impress her and his sister’s crowd, brought into nightclubs with them, getting mixed up in Ebru’s drama over her secret new boyfriend Kaan (Eray Ertüren) and wondering just what Asli’s up to as she invites him everywhere, makes a point of staying behind with him, rubs suntan oil all over his and touches his face–a lot — when they dance.
There’s an innocence to it all, but a slightly-older woman with a belly button piercing is complimenting him, even if there’s a patronizing edge to her “You’re a tiger” (in Turkish with subtitles, or dubbed into English) flirtations.
And then a wealthy pal of Kaan’s (Halit Özgür Sari) befriends him, and starts hanging with the two of them. Burak is 20something, charismatic and masculine in ways Deniz can’t match. Who will be the third wheel, the “go between,” the “chaperone,” as this summer rolls by?
The cast is pretty and polished. “Last Summer” is beautifully shot, showing off Bodrum and the Aegean Coast to great effect. Shimmering, over-the-top nightclubs, rocky shores on “the wine dark seas,” fig orchards and beautiful people recreating and kicking back, this has to be a summer to remember, right?
Only it isn’t. The flirtation has a sexual edge thanks to Deniz ogling Asli (we never see her notice) at every opportunity. But there’s no heat, just hints of his teenage longing. Virtually nothing is going on here, and the filmmakers seem to figure that out too late.
The third act has a whiff of “not growing up to be my Dad” philosophizing, the angst of college entrance exams and the “future” that may be wide open, or may be abruptly shut down for those who don’t figure things out before it’s too late.
Even the reckless behavior of youth seems recycled from every other film in this summer romance genre.
Pretty it may be. But all those elements conspire to make “Last Summer” not one we’ll remember, but one quickly forgotten.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, sexual situations, underage smoking, alcohol, profanity
Cast: Fatih Berk Sahin, Ece Çesmioglu, Halit Özgür Sari, Aslihan Malbora and Eray Ertüren
Credits: Directed by Ozan Açiktan, script by Sami Berat Marçali and Ozan Açiktan A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:42