By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Available on YouTube
Tara Johnson-Medinger’s directorial debut, My Summer as a Goth, would certainly turn heads if it ever became a school report of what she did in those dog days. This story is about Joey Javitts’ (Natalie Shershow) time as a wannabe to win the love of a boy.
Technically, she should grieve. Her dad recently passed away, and it’s reasonable for her to become preoccupied with death, ask why him, and hide out in her room. She sulks and just doesn’t want to live life to its fullest. Mom can’t help. She’s required to go on a book tour to promote her latest. The grandparents are her only hope, if she can bear to be around them.
Johnson-Medinger’s portfolio is excellent to push the right themes to the fore. She’s the head of the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival and its education program, which teaches young ladies how to be innovators. Not only does this school help put them to work in this cut throat industry, but also gives these youths the mentorship needed to succeed.
It’s hard to say if this writer/director completely knows the goth culture. There are parts which feel a little rough along the edges. The supporting characters have more of a mocking tone; This film feels more like a parody despite being marketed as a comedy drama. This subculture goes beyond simply wearing turn of the century age black clothing and having an interest in the occult. There are also sociological and psychological concerns too, which vaguely gets explored.
Maybe a desire to contact the dad can help. Joey is not likely to consider this move, but Victor (Jack Levis), the cute goth boy she meets across the street, will. He’s wanting to get hardcore, and he knows the right people, but Marilyn Manson he’s not (yet). He’s not a likable character, and even the grandparents agree!
This teen is certainly infatuated. However, just what she feels for another boy at school, Antonio, is still uncertain. It’s amusing to see he too is struggling with identity. As with most high school films, the students there typically fall into cliques. Be they jocks, nerds, the in crowd etc., this plotting is to be expected. Interestingly, the love triangle doesn’t get played up.
Coming of age films don’t always need a romantic angle, and the plot thread about Joey’s depression is largely forgotten. It doesn’t surface until she confronts her mother–and perhaps herself–in realizing that you have to wake up and smell the roses instead of shutting yourself down (or hiding yourself away in your work). They both are trying to cope with the loss of a father/husband. The film suggested this loss was very sudden. Life is tough when a someone close dies too soon. It’s difficult to let the right one in, to feel close to and talk about all those pains, and learn how to move on. Having a best friend helps, which she has, but when Molly (Rachelle Henry) is just as curious about the alternative lifestyle, what they do together isn’t helping.
The point of this film is in finding happiness. It doesn’t mean attaching yourself to a person or moping. Not everyone grieves either. Do Goths mourn? Are they always sad? The stereotypes in mass media are many, and an authentic look is rarely touched upon (to which this film tries). The quick Beetlejuice reference was amusingly referenced, but the nod to Wednesday Addams is not as obvious. Instead, in what kept this work amusing is the John Hughes vibe, which I enjoyed.
3½ Stars out of 5