LAST SUMMER OF NATHAN LEE Review: Love Means Never Say Die

Harrison Xu, Matthew Mitchell Espinosa, Natasha Tina Liu, Aaron Guest, and Dru Perez star; Quentin Lee directs the tender-hearted coming-of-age story.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
LAST SUMMER OF NATHAN LEE Review: Love Means Never Say Die

Friends make everything better.

Last Summer of Nathan Lee
The film is now playing in Toronto at the Carlton Cinema and opens at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on Friday, October 20, via Margin Films. It will be available On Demand on November 22.

Teenagers should never face a death sentence.

Nathan Lee (Harrison Xu) is diagnosed with brain cancer and given a fatal prognosis. He is just 18 years of age.

With, perhaps, mere months to live, he encourages his best friend Dash (Matthew Mitchell Espinosa), a budding filmmaker, to document everything about his final days, and resolves to live them with his closest high school friends, as though they had all the time in the world.

Crossing 'losing his virginity' quickly off his bucket list, thanks to his good friend April (Dru Perez), Nathan strikes up a friendship with Lorelai (Natasha Tina Liu). As they draw closer together, it only seems natural for them to include Dash in their intimate relationship, even as Dash draws closer to their mutual friend Caleb (Aaron Guest).

The five friends spend the summer together, mostly in private retreat at their homes, as they enjoy their time together, playing games, making meals, and making love. Their relationships with each other are warm and intimate; they love each other, in varying degrees and with varying intimacy, but always demonstrate care and concern for one another, irregardless of their varying national origins or sexual orientations. What really matters is what's in their hearts.

Directed by Quentin Lee, from a script written by Dennis Escobedo, based on a story by Lee and Escobedo, the film largely unfolds in front of cell-phone cameras. Lee, who also served as director of photography, eschews the 'shakycam' approach, though, favoring extended one-shots from a fixed position; think Ozu Yasujiro from a variety of heights.

That creative decision emphasizes the authenticity of the characters' interactions. The performances feel quite natural and unforced, often caught by surprise, with an element of unrehearsed spontaneity.

Different in shooting style from Quentin Lee's past films, Last Summer of Nathan Lee continues his primary focus on individuals, and how they adjust and adapt to changing circumstances. From surface appearances, the story is all about death and how people process the approach of mortality, for themselves and/or their loved ones.

Really, though, it's not about death but about life. Perhaps that's blindingly apparent, yet choices we make about how we live our life informs our feelings about death (and vice versa).

Making a tender-hearted film about teenagers who haven't yet figured out what they want to accomplish before they die is bracing in its quiet and kind contemplation of life. Everyone will come to their own conclusion, and make their own decisions, of course.

Last Summer of Nathan Lee offers no definitive answers, while creating a joyful, loving, and accepting environment to consider the rest of your life, however long (or short) that might be.

Last Summer of Nathan Lee

  • Quentin Lee
  • Dennis Escobedo
  • Quentin Lee
  • Harrison Xu
  • Natasha Tina Liu
  • Matthew Mitchell Espinosa
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Aaron GuestDru PerezHarrison XuMatthew Mitchell EspinosaNatasha Tina LiuQuentin LeeDennis EscobedoComedy

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