Review: A dead body leads to a mystery in hopeful, pensive ‘Summering’

Four girls walk in the middle of a grove of trees.
Madalen Mills, from left, Lia Barnett, Sanai Victoria and Eden Grace Redfield in the movie “Summering.”
(Bleecker Street)

It’s hard to think of a movie better timed than “Summering,” which opens with this bit of narration: “In the summer, while it lasts, everything is alive. Anything is possible. At least it feels that way.”

Spoken by Daisy (Lia Barnett), that sentiment sets the nostalgic tone of the drama, which takes place this time of year in a village called Midwood. “Summering” follows the adventures of four best friends who know the final days of summer may be their last chance to hang as a group, since they’ll soon head to different schools and challenges.

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Daisy is the one who spots a body while the quartet is wandering through the woods, and, because her dad has recently disappeared from her life, there’s a double meaning when she insists, “Someone is waiting for this guy to come home.” The mystery, in other words, must be solved, and who better to do it than the four friends?

The script by James Ponsoldt and Ben Percy beautifully captures a sense of longing and loss, giving the girls and their mothers distinctive voices (all of the characters are female, setting “Summering” in contrast to the classic “Stand by Me,” to which it pays homage). Nostalgia seems like something adults experience more than children, but the movie is appropriate for the latter, too, because it explores a daylong attempt to figure out who the dead man is from a distinctly youthful perspective.

So, yes, there’s a seance.

Ponsoldt, who directed, amplifies the nostalgia with dreamy shots of sun-dappled skies and glistening brooks. There’s a sense that nature is speaking to the girls, perhaps because they’re still clinging to an age when imagination trumps reality, whatever that is. They’re also capable of seeing magical things that the adults in their lives no longer notice.

That ethereal sort of thing could get gloopy and sentimental, but “Summering” balances the bucolic stuff with bits of acidic humor. If it occasionally threatens to idealize being 11 years old forever — “In case you haven’t noticed, growing up isn’t great,” Daisy says — it also hints at new possibilities for the four girls as they head into September.

“What’s next?” one of them asks, around the time the mystery of the dead body comes to an elliptical conclusion. It’s not clear if she’s wondering what comes after middle school or after life on Earth — or if those seem like the same thing to a pre-adolescent. But either way, “Summering” ends on a hopeful, expectant note that seems to say: There are many adventures to come.


—Tribune News Service


Rating: PG-13, for some thematic material

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: In general release