2020 | Dir. Carlos López Estrada | 95 minutes
Reviewed by Zoë Mills
“This morning, the sewer water smelled like butterscotch, and I found a beetle flattened into the concrete of Koreatown.”
And so Summertime begins.
Mila Cuda’s “LA Overture” opens the film. The poet recites this first love letter as we stare at the deep blue ocean that lines the seaside city. Then, street scenes. Dusty and sun-stained. Asphalt, metrorails, skateparks. Every corner of L.A. “All its ins and outs, all its In-N-Outs,” as Cuda puts it in her melodic voiceover.
Then, that great big blue again. As the camera pulls from the ocean to the boardwalk, the invisible mic is passed to Olympia Miccio. Guitar in hand, she sings a ballad of Venice Beach. Soon, she’s up, on rollerskates, gliding down a street lined with half-dressed mannequin bodies and tired beach vendors.
The dreamy tune is cut short when the singer collides with a group readying themselves for a selfie. The director of the group pic apologizes sincerely, and Olympia retorts sourly. With all her love funneled into Venice Beach, there’s none left for this oblivious photog.
Just when you think this bronzed blondie is going to pick up a rhythm in response, we’re pulled inside a trendy café where Tyris Winter, Amaya Blankenship, and Bene’t Benton are watching the scene unfold. Tyris Winter is a beaming and commanding presence. And one mean Yelp reviewer.
He just wants a burger, but he’s served overpriced toast that looks like a large format ham and cheese Lunchable. Shrieking strings fill the air as Tyris channels all his disgust into “Ode to Yelp,” a striking piece about what $15 means to a person. A field guide on how to kill “the man” with one star.
The performance leaves the server unphased. Then Tyris, with a wink to his friends, begins to choke. The scene unfolds in slow motion: Tyris dramatically seizing on the floor, his BFFs cradling his flailing body, restaurant patrons looking on in horror. A dramatic tableaux that puts Tyris, rightfully, at the centre of attention.
All this commotion, and it’s barely brunch-o’clock in La-La Land.
Summertime takes place in a day. This energetic and experimental film unfolds like a fast-paced musical as we follow 25 young spoken word poets throughout the famous city.
The cast is composed entirely of non-actors—all members of Literary Riot’s non-profit literacy organization, Get Lit – Words Ignite.
These talents come from underrepresented backgrounds, each fearlessly sharing what it means to be queer or Black or Latinx or Korean-American, hopeful or heartbroken or neglected, in the one and only City of Angels.
At a street corner, we meet aspiring rappers (Bryce Banks and Austin Antoine as Anewbyss and Rah) who attract a crowd but can’t earn a dime. In a therapist’s office, we’re introduced to Anna Osuna and Walter Finnie Jr., as well as the next great self-help book: “How to ‘Rap’ Battle Your Demons.” On the bus, we put a face to Mila Cuda, who performs “Hey, I’m Gay” with such passion that the West Coast poet lets an almost southern drawl slip out of her foaming mouth.
Summertime is packed shoulder-to-shoulder with intimate scenery, authentic stories, and unforgettable voices. Every person we pass is either a poet or a muse. Like the city it’s set in, Summertime is bright and busy and relentlessly inspiring.