The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"SUMMER '03"

Summer '03

Summer '03 allows Joey King to give the performance she's always had in her. This talented young actress has done supporting roles in good movies (Crazy Stupid Love, The Conjuring) and leading roles in bad ones (Wish Upon, Slender Man). Now she gets a leading role in a good movie, and she nails it. Writer/director Becca Gleason drew upon her own adolescent memories for this comedy/drama, ensuring that King has a part that capitalizes on her ability to immediately draw an audience's empathy.

She plays Jamie, a teenage girl whose life is changed one summer when her grandmother (June Squibb) drops a few family secrets on her deathbed. She also gives Jamie a rather disturbing piece of advice: "Learn how to give a good blowjob." These revelations leave her parents (Andrea Savage and Paul Scheer) fighting and the entire family in turmoil. Determined to heed Grandma's general advice, Jamie starts a fling with Luke (Jack Kilmer), a young man about to become a priest. From there, the film follows what happens to her love life, friendships, and family relationships over the course of three tumultuous months.

Summer '03 is very effective at making you feel nostalgic. No matter when you grew up, the manner in which the movie glamorizes warm-weather days filled with pool parties and hanging out with friends is identifiable. Gleason knows that there's something fundamentally different about summer. It's a time when the possibilities are endless and magic can happen. Regardless of whether or not you've been through something similar to Jamie's situation, you've doubtlessly had a summer that stands out in your mind for how it changed you.

What better time in which to set a coming-of-age story? The thing that sets Summer '03 apart from others is that, while still dealing with the age-old issue of adolescent sexual anxiety, it presents a female heroine who isn't ashamed of her interest in sex. A lot of movies portray sexuality among teen girls as something to be ashamed of, as though curiosity (and even outright horniess) is fine for boys, not so great for girls. Here, it's presented as healthy and normal. That's a refreshing approach, which keeps us invested in the story.

Joey King captures all the various conflicting emotions that swirl around inside Jamie's head. She's amused by her grandmother's bluntness, while also angry at the toll her revelations take. She wants to feel more mature sexually, even as the unknown aspect of physical intimacy scares her. She yearns to have the sexual comfort that her best friend Emily (Kelly Lamor Wilson) possesses, yet she also recognizes that Emily is lacking genuine substance in her life. In King's hands, we feel Jamie feeling these things, so we root for her to figure it all out.

Many of the predicaments the character finds herself in are humorously awkward, leading to some good laughs. There are also effective supporting performances, particularly from Savage and Scheer. A few minor missteps do occur along the way. Summer '03 ends with a not-quite-believable scene in which Jamie gives a big speech about what she's learned. A comical golf cart chase is similarly a bit too broad for the tone of everything else.

In every other way, though, the movie is a heartfelt winner. Gleason's story has a ring of truth. Being a teenager is hard, but it's also wonderful, enlightening, and fun. Summer '03, anchored by Joey King's spot-on work, is a charming little feel-good indie that will have you reflecting back on your own adolescence.

( out of four)

Summer '03 is unrated, but contains strong language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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