“Summertime” by director Carlos Lopez Estrada is a portrait of Los Angeles as described in spoken word poetry. It is colorful, exuberant, and affectionate and creates a roiling, rolling verbal city with its own flavor, reminiscent of “In the Heights.”
Tyris (Tyris Winter) is a young teen out with his friends in search of a cheeseburger that he enjoyed as a youngster. When he encounters a rude waitress, Tyris goes on a verbal tirade about the things that have changed since his childhood. Soft spoken yet energetic, he has the aura of the musician Prince. When Tyris simulates choking on food, the waitress no doubt wishes that she thought twice before being insulting.
Marquesha (Marquesha Babers) is a big girl who is dealing with self-doubt and low esteem after being cruelly dismissed by a vain egotistical jock. Her poem is a dizzying indictment of poison love and a vow of just desserts.
Gordon (Gordon Ip) delivers a stunning indictment of working in a fast food establishment and of the perils of being Asian under discrimination. His words are fire laced and razor sharp.
One gradually gets the picture of a carnivorous Los Angeles and a malevolent Venice Beach. A city that is not so tolerant or patient. Waitresses are self-righteous and judgmental. Pedestrians are dismissive. Customers sneer. The city of angels becomes “The Day of the Locust.”
The spoken poetry is powerful and percussive. Marquesha‘s poem in particular, is very moving, but when Tyris throws his half-eaten burger at the egocentric boyfriend, the film turns into a Three Stooges pie in the face moment and the mood is spoiled, albeit momentarily.
Raul (Raul Herrera) has the last moment of accepting melancholia when he recites his piece “Clouds.” As Raul recites his alternately giddy and mournful verses, it is as if he is a lost star-man, lamenting the greed of human-kind. Fireworks transform into alien spacecraft.
“Summertime” is an understated film with a speed and rhythm all its own, possessing quirk, verve and spirit. Los Angeles is a both a motley carnival and a confining purgatory of status and judgment. A poem carried by the vibration of the human voice is the agent of change that can either reduce the city to cinders or remake it, anew.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org