fb-pixel Skip to main content

A day in the life of LA, via poetry (and film): That’s ‘Summertime’

Tyris Winter in "Summertime."Good Deed Entertainment/Handout

Sunny, plotless, and brimming over with words, “Summertime” is a joyous anomaly. A day in the life of Los Angeles, it features 25 young men and women breezing through their lives, delivering arias of spoken-word poetry by turns hilarious, hopeful, and blunt. Director Carlos López Estrada, whose 2018 arthouse hit, “Blindspotting,” landed him on the map, was so inspired by a poetry showcase of high school performers that he approached the organizers with the idea of filming a “spoken-word musical.” The results mix the structure and feel of Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” — character vignettes that pass from one person to another in a verbal relay — with the urgency and concerns of kids of many colors launching themselves into the future.


So there’s little narrative throughline, if that bothers you (it didn’t bother me), although some characters pop up repeatedly: The imperious Tyris Winter, who posts withering Yelp reviews with rhythm and speed, or Austin Antoine and Bryce Banks as two bumptious street-corner poets who by the end of the film have ascended with welcome absurdity to rap stardom.

Gordon Ip plays a disgruntled fast-food worker in "Summertime."Good Deed Entertainment/Handout

Others get solo turns in the spotlight, with the final half hour of “Summertime” especially rich in charisma. There’s a fast-food number with a stressed-out burger flipper (Gordon Ip) giving vent to his you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit frustrations; the sequence veers from comic to heartbreaking in an exhilarating pivot. Marquesha Babers delivers a furious rebuke to an errant boyfriend that pretty much leaves a scorch mark where he once stood but that also bursts with the pride and sorrow of unseen women everywhere. Even a limo driver (Raul Herrera) gets into the act, with a paean to leaping idealistically into adult life: “Fly like the ground is on fire and the air is water, like the sky is getting higher but the world is getting smaller; time does not fly unless you throw it away.”


With sudden explosions of dance — a chorus line of waitresses in red whirling defiantly around a catcalling driver — and eruptions of performance on crosstown buses and in the kitchens of Korean restaurants, “Summertime” evokes both classic musicals and recent updates like “La La Land.” There’s not much character development or conflict unless you count 25 ferocious young talents talking back to a world that is ready to marginalize them. The vibe is troubled but hopeful, and some critics have faulted the film for its essentially candy-colored view of urban realities — as if the cast weren’t pushing against those realities with all the words in their arsenal. The movies have a long history of “kids putting on a show.” “Summertime” belongs to that tradition even as it expands its boundaries into the heartsore world offscreen.



Directed by Carlos López Estrada. Written by Estrada and the cast. Starring Tyris Winter, Gordon Ip, Marquesha Babers. At Kendall Square and Coolidge Corner. 91 minutes. R (language throughout and sexual references).