Lesbian teen dramas, unrequited love in a Japanese school, and 24 hours out of rehab – these are the essential films to help you through the heat
Summer sucks. I know it, Bananarama know it, and deep down, below your itchy layers of sunscreen, you know it, too. It’s not just that football didn’t come home, but these three months are a constant, hay fever-ridden disappointment. You’re a sweaty, disgusting mess during the supposed high points, and guess what, everyone is judging you for it – hard. Global warming is irreversible, train carriages are a revolting sauna, and everyone seems to be on a fancier holiday than you. If not, then it’s you burning away the cash saved away for autumn’s rent.
Worst of all, the powers that be have brainwashed society into believing that it’s the season for franchise sequels. You would think that we, as a species, are smart enough to see through this ruse, that the remedy for scorching weather isn’t over-salted popcorn and Chris Pratt hugging a CGI lizard. But Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and maybe this is the hell we deserve. It certainly feels like it, temperature-wise.
As an alternative to limited theatrical options, here’s a selection of sad summer movies that reflect your sunburnt mood. You wouldn’t watch Home Alone or listen to Slade outside of Christmas, would you? So in the meantime, make sure you seek out these melancholy favourites – it won’t be long until September arrives and saves us all.
SUMMER VACATION 1999 (Shusuke Kaneko, 1988)
A gay Japanese romance with a ghostly twist, Summer Vacation 1999 is worth seeking out purely for its casting: four male protagonists are played by four teen girls with short hair. The story, too, is unconventional. A trio of boys hang around a boarding school once term is finished and not long after the suicide of their classmate Yu. Then, one day, they’re startled by the arrival of Kauru, a doppelganger of Yu. Both boys are, of course, depicted by the same female performer.
So it’s a heartfelt coming-of-ager in which lonely kids discover the anguish of unrequited love in odd surroundings: the vacant school grounds may as well be the setting of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi. For extra creepiness, the laughter of absent children rings through the corridors.
MY SUMMER OF LOVE (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2004)
It’s a Yorkshire heat wave and everyone seems to be bored, horny and starved for attention. So two teens, Mona (Natalie Press) and Tamsin (Emily Blunt), press pause on their misery by making out in lakes, experimenting with mushrooms, and teasing Mona’s newly religious brother (Paddy Considine). “With God, his life’s like one big orgasm,” Mona complains.
Though the summer fling threatens to spill over into autumn, the relationship is burdened by mutual mistrust. “If you leave me, I’ll kill you” isn’t exactly a Valentine’s Day card staple. With a Goldfrapp score and idiosyncratic, woozy visuals, it’s a cinematic celebration of rural England from Pawlikowski, a Polish director with an outsider’s perspective.
CROOKLYN (Spike Lee, 1994)
The obvious choice here is Lee’s sweltering masterpiece Do the Right Thing. It’s so obvious, in fact, that you can probably recite Radio Raheem’s “love and hate” monologue by heart. So an alternative is the lesser-known Crooklyn, an autobiographical comedy-drama penned by Lee with two of his siblings. Set in the summer of 1973, it’s a bittersweet portrait of a chaotic family (the children gleefully dump rubbish onto the streets) who, for instance, resort to candles when their electricity is shut off.
There’s a cancer storyline, a momentary split between the parents, and an outrageous aspect ratio shift during a visit to relatives: the entire frame is skewed, as if your TV or laptop is broken. Look out for RuPaul’s cameo in the supermarket.
WATER LILIES (Céline Sciamma, 2007)
Before she directed Girlhood, Sciamma made a splash with Water Lilies, a lesbian teen drama about synchronised swimmers. And it rocks. Marie, a shy 15-year-old, joins her local sports centre to get closer to Floriane, an extrovert who’s popular with boys in the changing room. So a love triangle ensues, and not a smart, choreographed affair – it’s messy and upsetting, just like in real life.
In the water, the girls are composed and confident; outside the pool, they’re nervous, bumbling, and bound to say something they regret. Sciamma is a filmmaker who knows how teens talk – or don’t talk, rather – and it marks the first major role for arthouse superstar Adele Haenel.
ADVENTURELAND (Greg Mottola, 2009)
Is it cheating to include The Velvet Underground, Big Star and The Replacements in a movie? Even without its mixtape soundtrack, Adventureland is a clever, poignant comedy that everyone I know seems to have seen at least five times. The rewatchability, perhaps, stems from its plot: these outcasts have to work at a rundown theme park every summer, without fail and without a decent wage. They also, perversely, seem to enjoy it.
In Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, the two stellar leads are pros at looking naturally grumpy – a rare flicker of a smile thus goes a long way. Moreover, in depicting the awkward period between school and adulthood, the film posits that summer isn’t hell – it’s actually purgatory.
ONLY YESTERDAY (Isao Takahata, 1982)
Last week, Vince Staples tweeted that anime should have more “off deck shit” like people working at a supermarket. To that, I recommend Studio Ghibli’s Only Yesterday, in which a 27-year-old woman leaves Tokyo for a quiet summer on a farm. Plot-wise, not much happens. Taeko recalls her life as an 11-year-old, and the only fantasy elements are restricted to occasional dream sequences – a personal favourite is when she levitates after interacting with a crush.
The stakes, as small as they may sound, loom large and resonate more than pretty much any other anime. Taeko fears that she’s betrayed her younger self, and that she’s prioritised an exhausting career in the city over personal happiness. Please see the original, not the dub with Daisy Ridley & Dev Patel.
THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE (John Duigan, 1987)
It’s rural Australia, in the early 60s, and Danny (Noah Taylor) is a lanky, bullied 15-year-old with a hopeless crush on his only friend, Freya (Loene Carmen). From what we observe, their summer consist of lying on rocks in the heat like lovelorn iguanas, panicking about their future. But Duigan’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-ager isn’t a feel-good story. Freya falls for, and is impregnated by, an immature criminal (Ben Mendelsohn), and Danny is a third wheel for a doomed relationship.
The present-day voiceover indicates that 20 years later, Danny – and presumably Duigan – never recovered from his adolescent heartbreak. Some people keep the anguish locked up inside, and others simply make movies.
LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (Éric Rohmer, 1967)
As mentioned previously, Rohmer’s filmography was a key influence on Call Me By Your Name. In particular, La Collectionneuse boasts incredibly similar shots, and a minimal plot of two gorgeous people loudly wondering if they should sleep together. When Adrien visits his friend’s holiday pad in St Tropez, there’s a problem: his quest for solitude is ruined by a teen girl, Haydée, who desperately wishes to fuck him. The director may or may not be a straight male.
Still, Rohmer is the master of sad summer movies (The Green Ray, Claire’s Knee, A Summer’s Tale, etc) and this is a talky drama about glum individuals struggling to connect with each other. Here, a stroll in paradise just means a long, lonely walk home.
OSLO, AUGUST 31 (Joachim Trier, 2011)
Trier, the director of last year’s Thelma, made his critical breakthrough with Oslo, August 31, a downbeat drama that countered the flashiness of his 2007 debut, Reprise. As the title suggests, the “action” unfolds over a single day. Still, for a former heroin addict, the first 24 hours out of rehab can feel like an eternity, especially when every lull is littered with temptation.
Anders (Anders Danielson Lie) is 34 years old, 10 months sober, and considering a return to past behaviour: a potential employer frowns at the gaps on his CV; friends and relatives are unsympathetic; and a former partner won’t return his phone calls. Only the viewer witnesses his suicide attempt at the start of the day, and you spend the running time hoping he makes it to September.
WILD REEDS (André Téchiné, 1994)
In 1994, France’s best directors agreed to make their own coming-of-age movie, on the condition that each contains a party scene. The pact produced Oliver Assayas’ Cold Water, Claire Denis’ US Go Home, and Téchiné’s semi-autobiographical Wild Reeds. Set concurrently with the Algerian War, the period-drama focuses on the sexual awakening of four teens at boarding school: François and Serge wank each other off one night; Serge admits he’s lusting after Maïté, who actually has her eye on François; and they all snog or fist-fight with the new kid, Henri. It’s a wild ride. I mean, reeds.
All of which makes the film sound like a soap opera. It is not. It’s intimate, powerful, and Bergman-esque in its close-up of faces. Téchiné’s camera spins around a grassy, emotional landscape, and there are two party scenes for the price of one.
THE WE AND THE I (Michel Gondry, 2012)
Have you ever paused your podcast to eavesdrop on gossipy commuters? The We and the I, effectively how The Breakfast Club feels on wheels, takes place on one very slow, dramatic bus journey. As school’s out for summer, the vehicle is crammed with Bronx youngsters divided into cliques. It’s when passengers jump off, though, that the remaining individuals – the geek, for instance – open up about their insecurities and heartache.
All the actors are real kids, not professionals, and one moment sticks out: an argument between two teen boys who used to date. If it seems out of character, that’s because it’s a genuine dispute between the real-life counterparts. In that sense, the film’s sadness is real, with the levity stemming from a loudmouth ensemble and Gondry’s love of annoying visual tricks.