The attention directed toward the release of blockbuster films such as Barbie and Oppenheimer considerably overshadowed this summer’s expansive and diverse film scene. I say that without any intent to discredit the expert craftsmanship of these two movies, yet the overwhelming internet hype that uplifted their popularity made no space for many of the summer’s most excellent cinematic pieces, most of which were cinematic debuts directed by women. As a chic and snobby film major, this is me taking it upon myself to bestow my vast film knowledge unto you all. The following are some of the most memorable films of the summer that are not Barbie, Oppenheimer, and not even Asteroid City (sorry).
1. Past Lives – Directed by Celine Song
Past Lives, South Korean-Canadian director Celine Song’s first film, was one of the summer’s most notable and heartfelt films. Past Lives follows two childhood friends who grew up together in Seoul, reconnecting in their adult years and rediscovering their deep connection across different countries. The film spans three decades, the first depicting Na Young (who changes her name to Nora when her family moves to Canada) and Hae Sung’s childhood, and the next showing the period in which the friends reconnect online as adults. Another 12 years later, they reunite in New York City, where Nora is now married, and the two navigate what-ifs and rekindled feelings. Starring Greta Lee and Teo Yoo, the film is a beautiful, sincere, romantic, and longing narrative that questions destiny and affirms the connectedness of souls extending across multiple lifetimes.
2. They Cloned Tyrone – Directed by Juel Taylor
Another immensely impressive debut from a first-time feature film director was Juel Taylor’s They Cloned Tyrone, a satirical sci-fi mystery thriller about a Black neighborhood that becomes the target of government cloning experiments. I’d rather not say too much about the plot of this one, because I think the viewing experience is most effective when the viewer goes in completely blind. They Cloned Tyrone is immensely visually captivating, and the film’s unique concept produces one of the more sharp and interesting productions in recent years, with the narrative’s ever-unfolding turns building upon the film’s conspiratorial nature. They Cloned Tyrone is funny, entertaining, and effectively thought-provoking, and led by a stellar cast of John Boyega, Jaime Foxx, and Teyonah Parris. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who loves a great twist ending.
3. Theater Camp – Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman
Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp exists in the same cinematic realm as Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby and Bottoms, seemingly tied together through their features of Molly Gordon, Rachel Sennott, and Ayo Edebiri, as well as their attraction of predominantly LGBTQ+ audiences. Theater Camp was a gem in this summer’s film lineup, and anyone who partook in (and was perhaps traumatized by) childhood theater programs will undoubtedly find endless humor in this heartwarming narrative. Ben Platt and Molly Gordon co-star as eccentric theater camp counselors Amos and Rebecca-Diane, who put on a play in honor of the camp’s director who has fallen into a coma. The film is not only greatly uplifted by the supporting roles played by Ayo Edebiri, Jimmy Tatro, and Noah Galvin, but also by the assortment of talented young actors who play the campers. I also saw this with my mom, so it’s a safe one to watch with the parents. My mom really liked it.
4. The Starling Girl – Directed by Laurel Parmet
Laurel Parmet’s The Starling Girl paints a haunting and honest portrait of girlhood, coming of age, religion, and sexuality. Eliza Scanlen portrays Jem Starling, a 17-year-old girl raised in a conservative Christian Kentucky community, who begins to struggle against her faith when an alluring young pastor Owen returns to their church. It’s difficult to describe in such few words the level of nuance Parmet introduces to the cinematic conversation about romantic manipulation in coming-of-age films. The first-time director illustrates shame and longing for liberation in a way that feels realistic and true to that of an adolescent girl. Refreshingly, the narrative is not romanticized nor ambiguous, but an honest and raw portrayal of the discovery of self and desire.
Despite my attempt to diversify my film viewings this summer, I still feel as if I’ve left a long watchlist behind me and that I’ve missed so many viewings I wish I had seen. Though it may be difficult to catch every film (thanks a lot, Premiere Theater 7), I found these few to be some of the more important and watchable movies of this summer, each of which I could easily recommend to any viewer.