Sundance 2024 Review: IN THE SUMMERS, Provocative, Heartbreaking Family Drama

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
Sundance 2024 Review: IN THE SUMMERS, Provocative, Heartbreaking Family Drama

It’s not being provocative — at least not intentionally — to suggest families, biological and otherwise, can seriously f*ck you up.

Parents can fail their children. Children can fail their parents.

Whether realistic or the opposite, expectations in either direction can lead to heartbreak, despondency, or even trauma, the latter potentially rippling out into adulthood and beyond, invisible to the naked eye, negatively impacting the interior lives of both or either parents and their children. Add substance and alcohol into the mix, along with the emotional volatility and financial insecurity that it implies, and the outcome can be grim for both the substance-alcohol abuser and anyone within their inner circle.

That idea animates writer-director Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio’s deeply felt, richly textured, feature-length, Sundance Award-winning debut, In the Summers. As the title implies, In the Summers unfolds over the two or three months of the year when Vicente (René Pérez Joglar, aka Residente), a lower-middle-class, Latino dad struggling to overcome deep-seated personal issues, including borderline crippling self-loathing, gains temporary custody of his preteen daughters, Eva (Luciana Elisa Quinonez) and Violeta (Dreya Castillo), while their unseen mother remains behind in California, presumably living a better or at least a more settled, structured life.

Over the better part of a decade, Eva and Violetta grow and change as most preteens and teens do over similar periods in their lives. Samudio swaps out Quinonez and Castillo with Allison Salinas and Kimaya Thais in their middle years and later with Sasha Calle and Lio Mehiel as their young adult versions.

Across elementary school, high school, and eventually, university for academic star Violeta -- Eva’s post-high-school choices remain murky and undefined -- Samudio elicits uniformly strong, consistent performances from her cast. It’s all the more impressive as the performers were partly selected for their resemblance to each other, but mostly for their talents, skills, and create continuous performances.

With each return to New Mexico, Eva and Violeta’s attitude toward their father, sometimes conditionally, alters, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes radically (and permanently). Vicente’s mood swings result in moments of genuine affection mixed with withering, condescending jabs toward his daughters, their personalities, and their interests (art for Eva, STEM for Violetta). Where Vicente, naturally gifted in math and science, sees a kindred spirit in Violetta, her sexual and gender identity remains unspoken and undiscussed throughout the film, likely creating an insurmountable obstacle to a mutually healthy relationship.

In the Summers refuses to delve into the hows or why Vicente’s life took a turn, if not for the worst, then the second worst, only that his bitterness and resentment toward where life — and his own choices — have left him, unfulfilled and unchanged while his daughters take agency over their own lives. Vicente’s constantly shifting mood often leaves Eva and Violeta emotionally stranded and mentally exhausted, forced to make sense of Vicente’s contradictory actions without letting them color how they see and interact with the world. At least in Eva’s case, there’s a strong suggestion that she might not be able to overcome the negatives inherent in being Vicente’s daughter.

It’s likely, however, that Samudio’s quietly observational style — allowing characters, dialogue, and interactions to emerge organically from their respective situations — will prove divisive for some members of the audience. Samudio offers ambiguity where some would prefer clarity, specifically in motivations and behavior, but if nothing else, In the Summers serves as a reminder that life, Latino or otherwise, doesn’t follow a standard three-act structure.

In the Summers premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

In the Summers

  • Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio
  • Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio
  • Residente
  • Sasha Calle
  • Lio Mehiel
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Alessandra Lacorazza SamudioDreya CastilloIn the SummersLuciana Elisa QuinonezRené Pérez JoglarSasha CalleResidenteLio MehielDrama

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