My First Summer: Review. By Andrew Prosser.
Writer-director Katie Found’s sophomore venture (her previous being 2015’s The Widow) is, I suppose one could say, “short and sweet.” In just under eighty minutes, Found manages to tell the story of Claudia (Markella Kavenagh), a teenaged girl whose mother has kept her entirely hidden from the world, tucked away in their modest home somewhere in the woods of Australia – until the day her mother decides to go for a walk in the nearby reservoir, her bright yellow dress (it has pockets!) weighed down with stones, that is.
Another girl of the same age, Grace (Maiah Stewardson) witnesses the suicide and discovers the now-alone Claudia. From that dark jumping-off point, the film becomes a charming coming-of-age tale, as the bond between the two girls grows, Grace at first shocked by how little the sheltered Claudia knows of the world, but soon taking delight in becoming her new friend’s guide to everything that’s good in the world – from strawberry milk and candy necklaces to pink sheets and pinky promises.
It’s truly impressive how deftly Found manages the tone throughout, because it is balanced perfectly atop a tightrope – too much to one side and one can’t help but draw parallels to Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, but thankfully the initial premise of a young girl’s homeschooling being taken to the extreme is where those similarities end. We never get the impression Grace is taking advantage of the vulnerable Claudia, which is a growingly important distinction, as their relationship grows into a romantic one.
Still, and perhaps more impressively, Found never allows the film to veer too far in the other direction either – into the overly-saccharine, sentimental schlock perhaps a less-adept filmmaker couldn’t help but fall into. Instead, her film is a teenage girl’s coffee cup full of marshmallows – almost certainly too sweet for its own good, and still, somehow never quite.
Both Kavenagh and Stewardson turn in highly commendable performances filled with subtlety and nuance, and it’s a good thing too because it is in the strength of those performances where it’s decided if the film works or not. For my money, it does, so if you can check this one out, it’ll be worth the hour and a half of your time – I Purple Promise.
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