The melting pot of L.A. simmers in the heat of the joyous spoken-word musical, Summertime, settling perfectly into the Sydney-summer mood of the Mardi Gras Film Festival. Reader, I tell you the truth when I say it made me love a city I never got along with, and appreciate my own sunny, seaside Sydney even more.
Director Carlos López Estrada combines 25 young spoken word artists into a single, city-spanning narrative highlighting the diversity of Los Angeles and the life of your typical local. A collage of optimism and frustration from a generation of artists with their feet in the clay but their heads in the sky. It’s a love letter to a generation of hustlers making life work.
The action seamlessly flows through a variety of loosely connected narratives: two street-side rappers getting a break, a gay Yelp-activist in search of a cheeseburger in a gentrifying city, the impact of a therapist’s rap-battle technique, and two podcasters wandering the streets. Along the way, the city comes alive in every corner, breaking out into spoken word performance (and occasionally song and dance) as it goes. Characters weave in and out of the narrative (think Robert Altman or Richard Linklater), with a core group combining at the end for a cathartic finale of emotional release, new hopes and dreams.
Estrada, and screenwriter Dave Harris in collaboration with 27 Get Lit Poets, keep it all together with perfect precision; this has the bone-structure of a great musical, each piece of poetry propels the story and characters forward, driving the action instead of bringing it to a halt (other than the occasional mic drop). Is this a new genre? Poetic-comedy? Whatever it is, it’s the youthful, joyful antidote to Oscar-winning turkey, Crash.
For all the LA specificity—the rise of the rap duo Anewbyss and Rah, played by Bryce Banks and Austin Antoine, from street corner to reunion tour in one day is a fantastic evolving gag—the stories are universal. Paolina Acuña-Gonzalez’s Red Lipstick tackles the complex issues of young female empowerment with an exuberant, traffic-stopping dance routine. Maia Mayor as Sophia worries she’s not enough for her ex-boyfriend in the charming I Want to Be Good at Something. A special shout out to Mila Cuda’s Hey I’m Gay, which sees her shout down a homophobe on a bus, including the line “I’m gay like softball AND musical theatre”!
It’s not all quirk and comedy though. Tyris Winter’s day-long search for a cheeseburger hides his pain and fear of a homophobic family, while Marquesha Babers deals with the internalized pain brought on by a particularly cruel young guy.
Summertime lives up to the promise of its title. It is full of sun and freedom, the promise of new beginnings, loves and experiences. I was grinning from ear-to-ear by the time the credits rolled.
By Chad Armstrong
Summertime plays Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival 2022 in Sydney, Australia on February 27th. Click here for times and tickets.