Netflix’s ‘The Last Summer’ Has Lots of Hot Teens And Summer Goals, But Not Much Else
The final moments of senior year and that summer after high school graduation have been the subject of more than a few coming-of-age films: Can't Hardly Wait, Dazed and Confused, Say Anything, etc. It's a time for goodbyes to old friends, last ditch hometown flings, and the crumbling security of adolescence as decisions about the future creep closer, forcing teens of a certain age into finding themselves... or whatever. Netflix's latest entry into the post-high school, rom-com genre, aptly titled The Last Summer, follows a group of recent grads throughout, you guessed it, the last summer before college in an anthology focusing on the individual experiences of several Chicago teens. Mostly, it's pretty boring!
The film, directed by William Bindley and written with his brother Scott, bills a cast of rising young stars, like K.J. Apa (Riverdale), Maia Mitchell (The Fosters), Halston Sage (Paper Towns), and Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf), all of whom are shown in stylish shots of hazy #summergoals that look like they've been filtered through the next trendy Instagram editing app. But where other recent Netflix films like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before felt like a revitalization of teen classics, or their teenage originals like Sex Education smartly encapsulate Gen Z, The Last Summer relies on a lot of hot 20-somethings who are popular in young Hollywood to, like, chill out at the beach and drink out of red Solo cups at warehouse parties, without saying anything that hasn’t been said before about a time in life that’s rife with change and surging emotions.
In its rushed, hodgepodge first act, The Last Summer quickly introduces its cast of characters -- the cliched high school sweethearts destined to break up (Sage, Jacob Latimore); a misogynistic jock obsessed with getting laid (Wolfgang Novogratz); a pair of archetypal geeks sick of their day jobs (Mario Revolori, Jacob McCarthy); and the "cool girl" filmmaker (Mitchell) who's too busy working on cinema to focus on the sweet musician (Apa) clearly interested in her -- and they'e all largely one dimensional, like they've been plucked from one bad YA story and forced into another. And for a movie just as much an homage to high school's end as it is to the city of Chicago, it's a white, privileged look at the city, for the most part. Aside from the handful of kids with part-time gigs or Sosie Bacon's Audrey, who is basically the one middle-class girl who has to work a lot, everybody's down to just kick it by sunny Lake Michigan for the next few months.
Because they so easily fit into flattened stereotypes of a John Hughes movie or the cast of an early aughts comedy, none of these recent grads feel like the class of 2019. Some actual teen viewers went so far as to call it the "worst representation of teenagers" they've ever seen. For an increasingly self-aware generation, nobody comes off as particularly thoughtful, no thanks to the bland script. Not only do these "teenagers" look like they've been held back several years, they don't speak like 18 year olds today ("We have such an opportunity in this really connected world to get to know each other... and what do we have to show for it? Snap-streaks."), and the text messages shown on screen read as if your grandpa just figured out how to work his iPhone 5 ("Link up for old movie 2nite?"). Few characters' are going through anything significant, aside from several forced plot points based around their home lives and familial expectations; all they're worried about is banging out the sex list that they keep on their cell phone, or getting their parents to pay for a boob job.
It's largely the flick's multi-arc format that makes it pan out like an unfulfilled summer bucket list more than anything, though. Because The Last Summer focuses on so many last summers, you'll forget certain characters exist until their rotations for screen time is up, which lends little opportunity to say anything particularly poignant about this experience of youth. Some of the best, most cohesive moments are found in the budding relationship between Maia Mitchell's Phoebe (who carries the weight of the film on her back) and K.J. Apa's Griffin (who, for the record, does not always need to hold an acoustic guitar whenever he's on screen in any series or film) based on their chemistry and genuine preciousness of their potentially fleeting time together. A much more coherent statement could have been made if the film solely chronicled their romance.
If you can get past the out-of-touch dialogue (there's multiple sequences in which they list famous alumni from the universities they're about to attend -- relatable!) and cringe-inducing moments (there's perhaps one too many relationships between kids who just graduated high school and literal adults), The Last Summer's saving grace is its ability to put you in the mood for summer vibes. Sure, there may not be much coming of age taking place -- the cast seems too world-weary already -- but there's a lot of dreamy shots of lakeside campfires, neon-tinged roller rinks, and bike rides that will have you yearning to tell your crush from first period how much they mean to you before you set off for school somewhere on the other side of the country. These warm moments, which also read like a love letter to Chicago, are sufficient if you're looking for something without an elaborate plot to play in the background as you convince your summer fling to stick around, at least until Labor Day.
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