Review by David Baldwin
The premise of The Last Summer revolves around that small window of time for high school grads just before they go to college and continue their march towards jobs, adulthood and the real world. It is a magical time because you are on the precipice of a new adventure and are literally about to turn your back on who and what you were in the past. I do not really remember my own “last summer” much — I think I went to a few parties, hung out with my now ex-girlfriend, went on one small trip and definitely watched a ton of movies. I spend more time thinking nostalgically about that entire school year, what a wild adventure that was, all the friends I made (and the few I still remain in contact with) and all the memories I made that continue to bring me great joy.
I think that is why I was really cautiously optimistic about checking out The Last Summer when I saw the trailer a few weeks back. I was hoping it would evoke nostalgic memories for me and think about those friendships and adventures. And having Riverdale‘s K.J. Apa as the lead of a fairly recognizable ensemble didn’t hurt either.
The Last Summer as mentioned, revolves around the summer before college for a number of former high school students living in Chicago. Griffin (Apa) has been away at boarding school and has just returned home, where he continues to pine for Phoebe (Maia Mitchell), who is trying her best to complete a documentary film to qualify for tuition grants. Alec (Jacob Latimore) just broke up with long time girlfriend Erin (Halston Sage) and is working through the summer sealing driveways with Foster (Wolfgang Novogratz), who has built a list of the hottest girls in school that he hopes to have sex with. Meanwhile Erin’s best friend Audrey (Sosie Bacon — Kevin’s daughter!) has taken a job taking care of Lilah (Audrey Grace Marshall) where she takes her to various practices and meets while her mother is working.
If that was not enough, there are even more subplots involving Griffin’s skateboarding buddy Mason (Norman Johnson Jr.) trying to make it big, Erin’s budding relationship with Chicago Cubs rookie Ricky Santos (Tyler Posey), and Chad (Jacob McCarthy) and Reece’s (Mario Revolori) adventures in underage drinking and picking up older women.
I do not tend to write out lengthy plot synopses when I review movies as of late, but I made an exception here because there is way too much going on during The Last Summer to sum up in one-two sentences. While large ensemble pictures like this have existed in the past (and have been done more recently in the form of a bingeable TV series), the characters usually have some sort of connection to each other or keep jumping in and out of each other’s storylines. And while that is true for a few of these characters, the others are all completely unrelated and just kind of grouped under the theme of “high school is over, need to get my romantic relationships in check before the big move”. There may be one big scene early on where all the characters exist in the same space, but I completely forgot about it minutes later and continue to have a difficult time now trying to figure out the connections between most of them.
And without dragging the movie through the mud like Twitter will, some of the wish fulfillment stuff with the geeky and virginal characters here feels completely disingenuous and dated. Some of it is admittedly amusing, but most of it is just awkward and weird. It is the kind of material that would have been considered hilarious in the 1980s and would have had whole sex comedies dedicated to it. But here, it feels like afterthought scraps that should and could have been scrubbed completely because they take away from the storylines that actually matter.
Even saying that, The Last Summer gives very little reason to care about the majority of these characters. Yes, every single one of these young actors is putting in the work needed to sell their character’s plights — but because there are so many storylines piling on top of each other, no one is really afforded the chance to stand out or given enough focus to make any sort of lasting impression. I liked the love story between Griffin and Phoebe for the most part, but it is cut away from way too often and gets a little too melodramatic in the middle if for no other reason than to give them an obstacle to keep them from being together (as if the looming end of the summer was not enough).
I will give some credit to Writers Scott and William Bindley (who have the strangest IMDB credits I have seen in quite some time) for the storyline they give Bacon’s character Audrey. She is the only one not actively looking for love here (or sex), and the emotional weight given to some of her decisions regarding herself and her personal worth at the end were pretty refreshing. But again, the film cuts away from her too often — so what happens barely registers in the grand scheme of things.
There are a few enjoyable elements within The Last Summer and some enjoyable performances. But the ensemble storylines are all over the place and way too messy for their own good. A solid edit to fine tune the focus or a pivot to turning this into a mini-series would have worked wonders and made this teenage coming of age comedy/drama so much more worthwhile.