Drew Burnett Gregory is back at Sundance, reporting daily with queer movie reviews from one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Follow along for her coverage of the best in LGBTQ+ cinema and beyond.
Vicente is in his car outside the small airport of Las Cruces, New Mexico waiting for his kids. He’s nervous. His hands are shaking. He smokes to calm himself or just to have something to do. The flight attendant exits the airport with his two kids, tomboy Violeta and girly Eva, and he does his best to shift into father mode.
The movie shifts too. This opening moment is one of the few we’re with Vicente, the rest alternating between Violeta and Eva. This brief glimpse will endear us to him even as he hurts his kids. We’ll know he cares. We’ll know he’s trying his best. But it doesn’t ease the hurt. It might even make it worse.
Alessandra Lacorazza’s debut feature, In the Summers, is split into four sections, four summers where Vicente’s kids visit from California. The film spans over a decade as Violeta and Eva are played by three different actors.
Even as a child, it’s obvious Violeta is queer. But her dynamic with her father and her sister and the rest of the world is as complicated as queer existence often is in life. Vicente has a respect for Violeta, a clear favoritism built on their shared masculinity — even though he still has homophobic outbursts. It’s Eva who faces the most rejection from her father, even as it’s Eva who is most desperate for his love.
It’s also not as simple as Violeta being masculine and Eva being feminine. Especially as they get older, those lines are blurred as Eva evolves into her own kind of tomboy. Violeta is more emotional while Eva is hardened. Eva skateboards and excels at pool and both Violeta and Eva attach to local dyke bartender Carmen.
The greatest strength of In the Summers are these well-written, realistic, complicated characters and watching how the change — or don’t — and how their relationships change — or don’t — over time. Lacorazza’s sharp writing is paired with several excellent performances including Réné Pérez Joglar (aka rapper Residente) as Vicente, Emma Ramos as Carmen, Leslie Grace as Vicente’s girlfriend Yenny, and Lío Mehiel and Sasha Calle as the eldest versions of Violeta and Eva.
But it’s the middle versions of Violeta and Eva who are the heart of the film — old enough to be fully aware, young enough to leave down some of their defenses. Allison Salinas and Kimaya Thais give phenomenal performances that are a testament to their burgeoning talents and Lacorazza’s talent as a director.
Each part opens with a video still life marking the next chapter. It’s a nice cinematic flourish and I wish the film had more like it. In the Summers is at its best when it supports its writing and performances with a clear form — a sweaty party in shallow focus, an accident lost in darkness. Too often the film falls back on a flat naturalism that doesn’t quite fit with its snapshot memory structure.
Nevertheless, this is a film that prioritizes character and that is where it excels. Watching Mehiel and Calle synthesize Violeta and Eva’s childhoods into their adult selves recalled the last chapter of Moonlight — pretty much the highest compliment I can give.
When we leave Violeta and Eva they’re in their early 20s, still so young. They each have so much growth left to stumble through, so many more chapters to live. In the Summers is a queer coming-of-age movie that understands childhood and adolescence are just the beginning — our memories shape us for the rest of our lives.
In the Summers is streaming on the Sundance virtual platform January 25-28.