Los Angeles is called the “City of Angels.” It’s a place for dreamers and hard workers. A place to grow and create. It brings hope to those who aspire to be more than they ever thought they could.
But sometimes, those dreams and aspirations come with struggles and heartbreak.
Some people search for love in all the wrong places. Some people find love and then have their hearts ripped out by the ones they love. Some people study hard every day to make good grades but still struggle to find work that pays the bills. And some people get everything they ever wished for just to realize it’s not what they actually want.
Taking place on a hot summer day, Summertime intersects the lives of 27 Angelenos as they learn these lessons and express their feelings about love, life and Los Angeles.
When a rapping duo gets their big break, they write music bragging about how they made it, all the money they have now and the fancy cars they drive. However, their producer encourages them to write lyrics about what’s important to them, and they eventually become famous for a song that talks about how much they love their moms instead. But once they’re rich, they realize fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And they discover that their producer was right: Fame and money shouldn’t be glorified in songs, because those things don’t matter, people do. (They decide to share their wealth with those less fortunate and fly under the radar for a while so they can return to their humble beginnings.)
A woman chastises her daughter for disrespecting her (the girl had her phone at the dinner table and raised her voice). When the young woman asks permission to go to a party (which she is going to go to anyway, since she is 18), her mom is resistant. She says that just because her daughter is legally an adult now, that doesn’t mean she’ll stop worrying about her. And though they compromise on the conditions of going to the party, the girl learns that her mom’s many lessons were for her benefit. Her mother wasn’t being strict to be mean but to protect her daughter.
When Marquesha, a girl who had her heart broken by her best guy friend, sees another girl crying over her own recent breakup, she offers her a shoulder to cry on. The girls talk about how sad they are and realize that some of their wounds may never heal. That’s because it’s not just the heartbreak they feel at being rejected, but something deeper within them that is causing the depression. However, they also discover they aren’t alone, which gives them both hope for the future.
Tyris, a homeless teen, laments how he was abused and kicked out of his home for being gay, which the film rightly depicts as a tragic outcome for him. Still, Tyris continues to long for some of the things that made home feel like home. Throughout the movie, he searches L.A. for a restaurant that sells simple cheeseburgers because he misses his mom and wants to be reminded of the burgers she used to make. But despite his sadness at losing his family, he realizes that some new friends are becoming a new family. They check in on him when they haven’t heard from him in a few hours and offer him a place to stay so he won’t have to sleep on the streets.
A man takes several hurting teens to a beautiful view of fireworks in L.A. He tells them that their time is valuable in that it only matters when you give it to someone or spend it on something you’re passionate about. He encourages them not to waste time on people who don’t value the dreams they’re pursuing. And he says he can’t give them an answer for their pain, but he can give them his time, which shows that he cares about them.
An elderly woman chooses to embrace her niece’s crazy music choices as a way of connecting with the younger woman.
An abused and abandoned teen boy says he used to call out to God for help but never received an answer, leading him to believe there was no God.
We hear people compare things like smells, sex and home to heaven and holiness throughout the film.
Los Angeles is called an “angel angst town.” Someone plays a cornet next to a sign that says, “Music will save you.” A therapist gives her book, How to Rap Battle Your Demons, to her patients.
A musical duo is named “Anewbyss and Rah,” in reference to the Egyptian gods Anubis and Ra; one wears the Egyptian spiritual symbol of the ankh around his neck.
Two older women on a bus start kissing, and a younger man asks them to stop since there are children present and it might confuse them. The children’s babysitter is insulted by this, and she rants (through poetry) about how she is also gay, alluding to how she experimented with both genders growing up, mentioning female body parts and ending with how she “makes love” to her partner. (She also compares sex to heaven and religion.) During this, the man tries to leave the bus but is purposely held up by the bus driver, who shouts “Amen!” and cheers with other bus riders when the woman finishes her poem. (And many other moments of dialogue in the film are delivered in this poetic manner.)
An unmarried couple goes to therapy to discuss their relationship—because they’ve both been cheating on each other—and we hear some crude talk about sex. Their therapist bluntly asks if they are interested in a polygamous relationship. When they both respond with “No!” she tells them to quit cheating on each other and move in together. (We later see the couple kissing passionately.)
A woman says her daughter looks like a “woman of the night” because she is wearing red lipstick. In the girl’s mind, we hear her give voice to thoughts about her desire to be bold and wear red all the time. But while this inner dialogue happens, she watches a waitress in a revealing dress get cat-called by a man. The girl imagines the waitress and other women in red dresses shutting down the man’s advances through dance, empowering themselves as they do so. But when she stops daydreaming, she realizes that her mother’s lessons about not wearing red are to protect her from guys who would give her unwanted sexual advances.
A girl says that some guys ask for her bra size before her name. And she says her crush told her that her breasts would be the only thing that ever attracted a man.
Some female characters wear revealing clothing (one girl’s shorts leave little to the imagination). We see a pair of shorts for sale with the words “It ain’t gonna spank itself” imprinted on the rear. Dancing women tell each other, “Shake those hips.”
We don’t see any onscreen violence, but we hear about it. One woman says she has made three suicide attempts. She also contemplated physically hurting a man after he broke her heart, before realizing that she didn’t want to be that kind of person. A man on the radio says his family of immigrants came to America to escape a life of guns and bullets. And a young man talks about how he wears long clothing to cover the scars and bruises left on him by his parents and sister growing up.
A street artist who has been paid to paint a wall is shoved against that wall by police because they think he is graffitiing it. A boy throws a burger at another guy’s face.
One of this film’s biggest content issues is language. We hear about 55 uses of the f-word (five paired with “mother”) and 40 uses of the s-word. We also hear multiple uses of the n-word, as well as “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” We also hear people called “hos.” God’s name is misused five times, and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
A woman says her therapist’s name is “Dr. Green,” and we later see her at a marijuana shop. A girl talks about the smell of her brother’s marijuana. A woman says she used to smoke everything when she was younger. Someone says smoking smells “gross.”
A particularly rude waitress calls a Black teen a “thug” and threatens to call the cops when he refuses to pay for an overpriced meal that he doesn’t want to eat since it’s not what he ordered. The boy then rants (through poetry) about all the things he could purchase for the same price as this restaurant’s toast. He ends the encounter by pretending to choke on the food that she brought him, creating a scene so that his food will be compensated. (He and his friends later laugh that they almost made the waitress cry.)
A girl confronts her ex-best friend, a guy, whom she used to have a crush on. She tells him how much his rejection hurt when she revealed her true feelings to him. Instead of kindly saying he didn’t feel the same way, he made derogatory remarks about her weight, calling her ugly and saying it might be better if she died. She also talks about how it destroyed her self-esteem and led her to a suicide attempt and long-lasting depression requiring therapy.
Another boy tells his ex-girlfriend that it’s “narcissistic” how much she hates herself and that she needs a therapist, not a boyfriend. (His female friend then chastises him that his comments are “not feminist.”)
When the manager of a burger joint suddenly quits, it falls to his subordinate to fix all of the problems. Multiple customers are rude to him in different ways, usually over petty problems.
Completely overwhelmed, the young man screams at the customers, cursing at them and calling them out for their rudeness and entitlement. He talks about how his immigrant parents worked hard to feed him, so he worked hard to get good grades so he could get a good job. But despite having a 4.0, he still wound up working at a fast-food place, making minimum wage, barely able to pay the bills to help his folks out and miserable because it was all for nothing. And when he finishes his rant, he quits as well because none of the people care.
Police chase a kid who is known for tagging walls around the city. When people are embarrassed publicly, we often see bystanders laughing and recording the incidents on their phones. We hear some discussions about different political viewpoints in a negative light. People are rude to a man trying to read his poetry.
We hear a crude joke made about someone’s dead mother. One speaker finds beauty in the smell of sewer water and pigeon excrement. There’s a reference to someone defecating in a wastebasket.
Summertime comes with some obvious content issues that I’m going to address first. With more than 50 uses of the f-word alone, it’s not a clean film. There are allusions to sex, drugs and violence in the spoken word (though we don’t see these things take place on screen). All of these content issues place it squarely in R-rated territory.
The film also deals sympathetically with the struggles of several LGBTQ teens, which is another complex worldview issue to be aware of ahead of time with Summertime.
For many, if not most, families, this litany of issues will make Summertime an automatic nonstarter. But for any who do choose to see this poetry-focused film—one that’s likely to appeal to viewers with an artistic bent—the lack of graphic visual content here could make it a conversation starter for older teens and parents.
How do we handle a situation where a gay couple may be kissing on a bus in front of younger kids? The man in this film had the best intentions—he thought it would be confusing for the kids seeing it. But the babysitter of the children didn’t care and was insulted that the man spoke up. And as a result, the man was ridiculed by everyone on the bus for saying anything at all. What would you have done? How would your faith influence your response to this situation?
What about when the friend or classmate of your child is kicked out of their home for being gay, as Tyris was? His friends offered him a safe place to stay for the night, but it didn’t fix the fact that he was now homeless and unwanted by his biological family. They clearly disapprove of his lifestyle and choices, but their response to those choices also leaves him vulnerable and wounded. That begs a tough question: What does unconditional love look like when we don’t agree with someone’s lifestyle because of our own spiritual convictions about what’s right?
These are real issues. Many of the actors in this film aren’t actors at all—they’re youth poets who each contributed their own words and experiences to create this story. Which means that on some level, the heartbreak we’re witnessing here—the victims of abuse, the hard workers never seeing their hard work pay off and those struggling with depression or their sexuality—is the result of a lost, confused world creating still more lost and confused people.
Summertime tries to offer a glimmer of hope to characters who are hurting and confused. At the end of the film, a man tells many of these teens to chase their dreams no matter how long it takes. But he challenges them not to give their time to those who, he says, “don’t matter.” You control how you spend your time, he says, so give it to the people who you love and who love you back—then it will never be wasted.
It’s an inspiring message on one level, one that encourages viewers to find likeminded and supportive friends. But it’s still lacking for one reason: the absence of God.
At the end of the day, our calling as Christians is to demonstrate God’s love to the lost and the confused who don’t know Jesus. They may not understand it or accept it, but for many people, we are the only Light they’ll ever witness. So, it’s our duty to shine God’s love brightly, to help the helpless, to love the unloved, and to remind them that no matter how far they stray, they do have a Father who wants them and who will always welcome them home.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.