starring Grant Davis, Davi Santos, Ben Baur, Ajiona Alexus
screenplay by Carlos Pedraza, based on the novel by Jay Bell
directed by David Berry
by Alice Stoehr Musicals bloom from effusive emotion. When Catherine Deneuve strolled down the streets of Cherbourg, when Judy Garland hopped on a St. Louis trolley, their yearnings were too intense to merely be spoken. They had to be sung. In Something Like Summer, newcomer Grant Davis stars as Ben Bentley, a Texan teen and aspiring singer who's heartsick (like Deneuve and Garland) over a boy. But his sweetheart Tim, played by Davi Santos, is a "good-looking jock," as Ben puts it--closeted, Catholic, and deeply ashamed. After a few sub rosa liaisons, the two bitterly part ways. The film cuts to a dim, empty theatre, where Ben sublimates his sorrows into a cover of the break-up song "Barely Breathing": "I know what you're doing," he warbles. "I see it all too clear." While Deneuve had Jacques Demy and Garland had Vincente Minnelli, Davis has first-time director David Berry, who stages the handful of musical numbers with minimal panache. No dancing, some haphazard camera movement, the actor emoting on a stage. Later, handheld close-ups will peer at Davis during his halting rendition of "La Vie en rose." (He sings it in a Parisian café, the Eiffel Tower shining through a nearby window.) The soundtrack includes a couple of new compositions alongside songs originally by Regina Spektor and Ne-Yo, many of them intercut with bland montage, none of their lyrics especially salient to the story. Cohesion and spectacle both receive low priority versus the endless reams of plot.
The screenplay derives from a novel of the same name by Jay Bell, and Something Like Summer plays like a too-faithful adaptation, moving at a herky-jerky pace from one melodramatic incident to the next. After high school, Ben meets flight attendant Jace (Ben Baur) on a Christmas Eve red-eye. "Nobody looks sad when they fly," notes Jace with bizarre certitude, "unless there's a funeral involved." The two men soon fall in love, nestling together in an Austin apartment, and all seems well--until Tim re-enters the picture. Now out and making strides as an artist, Tim tries to rekindle his ex's interest by sowing seeds of jealousy. When his needlessly convoluted gambit backfires, its consequences send Ben ping-ponging between redemption and tragedy across the last fifteen minutes of the film.
The insular action restricts itself to these three jealous guys clad in polos and V-necks. Parents and a best friend sometimes tag along, but only so they can relay blunt exposition or have it relayed to them. Something Like Summer is the kind of movie where the extras populating its exterior shots truly look and feel like extras. For all its unremitting angst, the drama is tough to take seriously. The risible dialogue's no help, nor is Berry's climactic use of moody slo-mo and time-lapse photography. By the end of the film, which runs nearly two hours, over a decade has passed for Ben and Tim. They sit on a bench in a gallery gazing at Tim's magnum opus, which is a trite painting of some flowers overlaid with a heart. And even after all those twists and turns, after all that loss and desire, they still just look like a pair of actors trying to make good work out of bad material. Everything their characters have endured has been so emotionally shallow that it might as well never have happened.
In The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Meet Me in St. Louis, style and storytelling give heft to the characters' experiences. They establish a context where even a little heartbreak rendered as song might elicit tears. None of the collaborators in Something Like Summer are operating on a high enough level to make its story seem anything but ludicrous. It may be chirpy, sincere, a simulation of sweeping romance, but its good intentions aren't endearing enough to make it bearable. It's admittedly a bit of a relief to see a movie about gay men where they worry about more than homophobia. The airless insularity means that once Ben and Tim leave high school, they leave slurs and closets behind them, and instead stress out over sex, trust, and grief. Those are all themes, though, to which the film does no justice. Its sex is mostly theoretical, a matter of bare chests and shoulders, with nary a naked tush in sight. Trust is invoked by a few quick conversations about infidelity; grief is Ben sitting sullenly, staring off into space. The film glides superficially, devoid of insight, over the substance of real gay lives.