Netflix's The Last Summer is a hodgepodge of better teen movies, failing to say anything new or poignant about the transitionary period to adulthood.
After the success of teen-geared romantic comedies like The Kissing Booth and To All the Boys I've Loved Before in 2018, Netflix has dived into producing more such movies in 2019. The latest of these is The Last Summer, an ensemble young adult rom-com set over a specific length of time in the vein of Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. However, while those movies were set over the course of a single day, The Last Summer chronicles the final summer for a group of high school graduates in Chicago as they prepare to set off for college. Netflix's The Last Summer is a hodgepodge of better teen movies, failing to say anything new or poignant about the transitionary period to adulthood.
The Last Summer is an overstuffed ensemble, with little connective tissue aside from the fact that all the characters live in Chicago, recently graduated high school and some are friends with each other. There's Griffin (KJ Apa) and Phoebe (Maia Mitchell), who reconnect after Griffin returns from prep school for the summer and helps Phoebe with a documentary she's working on. There's also Alec (Jacob Latimore) and Erin (Halston Sage), who break up in order to avoid the difficulty of a long-distance relationship once they start college, and then both start dating new people: Paige (Gage Golightly) and Ricky (Tyler Posey), respectively. Meanwhile, Alec's friend Foster (Wolfgang Novogratz) has a hook-up list as his summer goals, while Erin's best friend Audrey (Sosie Bacon) babysits a child actress. Then there's also the two token nerds of the film, Reece (Mario Revolori) and Chad (Jacob McCarthy), who find acceptance in an adult setting.
Directed by William Bindley (Madison, Mother's Day) from a script he co-wrote with his brother Scott Bindley (The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature), The Last Summer attempts to tell multiple coming-of-age and romantic storylines within the confines of a two-hour movie. But with the film spread out across so many storylines, it fails to dig too deep into any one of its characters, barely developing some of them beyond a one-dimensional stereotype. But even then, the teen characters seem to be based on archetypes from the '80s, giving The Last Summer a tone that feels far removed from present day. Similarly, the various storylines feel pulled from classic teen comedies, particularly when it comes to the "nerds" Reece and Chad. They bemoan their outsider status but ultimately find their place - through a great deal of lying and illegal underage drinking. It represents the same tired message that even if you're an outsider in high school, you can find acceptance in adulthood, but it doesn't take into account how high school has changed over the last 30 years.
That disconnect between how high school was portrayed by Hollywood in the '80s versus how high school actually is for teens now permeates The Last Summer. Certainly, there are aspects of high school that never change, like the fact that there are always some students who are more popular than others. But even when The Last Summer attempts to address more modern facets of high school and growing up - like the assumption everyone will go to college or the difficulty of staying in a romantic relationship despite all the technology to help people keep in touch - it's half-baked and comes across as patronizing. Nothing epitomizes this as much as Phoebe's documentary, the focus of which is never truly explained, beyond some vague hints that it's about the transition from high school to college. Similarly, The Last Summer seems to want to say something poignant about coming of age in an era where going to college is expected, but it becomes clear the Bindleys don't actually know what it's like to be a teen in this day and age.
As a result, The Last Summer has quite the talented cast of young performers - Riverdale's Apa, Good Trouble's Mitchell, Teen Wolf's Posey, to name just a few - but even their collective charm can't save the film from becoming a slog. As the default leads, Apa and Mitchell ostensibly have the most compelling material, but their story and arcs follow predictable rom-com archetypes, much like all the other stories and characters in the movie. Further, the female characters of The Last Summer are bafflingly written, largely only established in their relationships to the male characters (with the sole exception of Audrey, whose arc still falls back on stereotype). Still, while the plot lines may not be entirely new or engaging and the characters lacking much depth, the actors are likable enough to carry the film through. It's smart to pack The Last Summer full of young stars who have fans in their own right, since there's little draw to the movie beyond its teen actors.
Ultimately, The Last Summer may be worth a watch for those looking for a low-commitment summer fling-style movie in Netflix's library. It'll be more enjoyable for viewers who are already fans of Apa, Mitchell and Posey, since they carry the film through, but is by no means a must-watch - even for their fans. In fact, there's nothing particularly compelling about The Last Summer, and viewers may be better served watching one of the teen classics it draws inspiration from. Though Netflix continues to appeal to rom-com fans, The Last Summer isn't bound to be the streaming service's next big hit; instead, it seems poised to burn hot and flame out quickly, much like a summer romance.
The Last Summer is now streaming Netflix. It is 109 minutes long.
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