Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'Summer Eleven' Keeps The Innocence in Coming-Of-Age Tales...

When I was growing up, looking for some filmic friendships to which to aspire, there was Now and Then, a tale that followed four friends as they reunited and reminisced over a summer that had bonded them together forever. A later generation, though, was offered The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, based on the book of the same name about four teenage girls who are united by a pair of "magic" pants that they send to each other along with detailed letters of their summer lives to stay in touch while they are miles apart. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but for the young ladies of today, Summer Eleven more than does the job.

Summer Eleven takes its audience back to a simpler time, a time when kids about to enter middle school were still sweet, innocent and unassuming, despite being set in Los Angeles and revolving on Vanessa (Alice Ziolkoski) who actually is spending her summer auditioning for various MOWs. These four friends each have their own stuff going on-- Lizzie (Meagan Hughes) fear for her brother who is deployed overseas, Peri (Sydney Fox) is living out of her car with her mother and younger brother, and Jess (Sarah Butterworth) has a new father figure who is making too many changes to her comfortable little life-- but they band together to not only get each other through but also help each other escape in some purely child-like ways.

What is refreshing about Summer Eleven is that in a world in which girls this age appear constantly on the cusp of cattiness, these have managed to hold on to their generous spirits and precocious instincts a little bit longer than others. The film is extremely somber, and slow paced at times, but it, nor the girls themselves, is never sullen. Any "easy" or perhaps innate cynicism is stripped away, and through all of the hardships and adversity, they manage to hold onto hope that with each other, they will be okay. But at times it seems a bit unreal, especially when Lizzie asks her friends who a woman gets pregnant (Um, she's ten, and this is 2011, and well, I just don't believe that if you don't already know by then, you're willing to admit that to your classmates, no matter how friendly you may be). Summer Eleven feels like a freeze-frame of time before outward pressures and self-confidence complications set in.

This movie is strongest in scenes when all four girls are together and just left to their own devices to be kids who are trying to find their way as young women. A favorite of mine? The impromptu headshot session during a birthday party, if for no other reason than the mostly likely unintentional Friends reference within.

Summer Eleven
was released in a very limited theater run in 2010 and is now available on DVD.

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