It’s been a while since we’ve had a great coming-of-age movie. Between the innocence of Stand By Me and the nihilism of Breakfast Club, bildungsroman comedies in the late twentieth century made us feel connected, less isolated during our most awkward stages, cherishing our days of youth while bracing ourselves for an uncertain future. Yes, the new millennium is not short of tweenage adventures on silver screen, but there has to be a sweet spot between the apparent frivolousness of Mean Girls and the literal kick to the stomach of This is England. Something to soar our spirits as our wings start to melt due to emotional Global Warming. That’s where A Dozen Summers comes into play.
The first feature directed by Canadian wonder Kenton Hall, A Dozen Summers is a feel-good film that stays real to the harsh facts of life without losing its sense of adventure. It’s the story of a summer in the lives of Maisie and Daisy McCormack, pre-adolescent twins on a quest to make their own movie as they navigate their relationships with friends, family and society in general.
The story is, at all times, told from Maisie and Daisy’s perspective, after they “kidnap” an off-voice narrator (Doctor Colin Baker) who was aiming to tell a children’s tale as a distant observer, the same way David Attenborough talks about wild animals. These very wild animals are on the loose, and now you’re going to witness their truths with a little help from dreams, metaphors, parodies and heavy, heavy editing. For once, the control is at their fingertips, and they’re not afraid to use it.
The twins are no Lindsay Lohans. There’s no illusion and no stereotypical twin jokes about wearing the same outfit, holding hands at all times and finishing each other’s sentences. The girls, played by real-life twins Scarlett and Hero Hall, are autonomous people with diverse life interests and even different growth patterns. While Maisie has crushes and spends ages buying jeans, Daisy’s most heartbreaking concern is that they’re not making a horror movie instead. A ghost girl who eats all the teachers? I’d watch that, honestly. Twice.
Kenton is their father on and off-screen, but there’s no whiff of favouritism either way. The same level of professionalism can be seen through the entire cast, young and less young alike. Many things can go wrong with underage/vulnerable talent, but those children set an example and show a broader range of performances than a few Academy Award nominees.
This is not just a children’s story. From constant subplots and stillness, we learn that growing pains never cease. The adults go through their personal journeys, hidden from those who look up to them. When the kids leave, there is sighing, smirking, staring at unknown distances. Grown ups are left to their own devices, now with permission to stop pretending that they’ve got their wits together. Between classes, the teachers reflect. When the noisy students leave the shop, the attendant can’t seem to cope with sudden silence. The mother, played by Sarah Warren, fights this constant loneliness through a string of peculiar romances. The father, on the other hand, only seems to find solace in the big nothing. When his children go to school, he tells the camera to go on then, keep filming the girls, not him. After all, it’s their story. Right? Or is it everyone’s story?
For a brave little indie family film, A Dozen Summers seems to be reaching places. It has been shown at festivals in places as distant as the US, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ukraine and Chile. For the past couple of months, it has been commercially screened in theatres all over the country and, after a successful weekend in late August at its hometown in Leicester, it’s coming back this weekend for a limited time at the Phoenix. Several external locations were shot in the Cultural Quarter, so it’s fair and necessary to see the results around here.
What are you waiting for, then? Support local, indie, transnational, immaculate storytelling for all ages. It’s finger-snapping good.