Title: My Summer As a Goth
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Tara Johnson-Medinger
Starring: Natalie Shershow, Rachelle Henry, Jack Levis
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
What It Is: Struggling with the passing of her father and relationship with her mother, teenage artist Joey finds herself forced to stay with her grandparents for the summer. Disgruntled, angry, and full of angst, she finds herself swept away by a strangely-dressed boy who immediately encourages she take on the goth persona. For the rest of the summer, she can’t help but find herself infatuated with the mysterious (yet obviously flawed and selfish) teen, forcing her to soon reflect on her own worth as a person and a woman through expression.
What We Think: In 2009, Xavier Dolan directed, wrote, and released a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film titled I Killed My Mother, in which we see a mother and son struggle with their relationship as the teen becomes more independent, self-aware, and manipulative, consequently revealing his mother’s major flaws as well. It will be of little help to discern between them what was done right and what was done wrong on part of a coming of age story. My Summer as a Goth in comparison has a lighter, much poppier tone to it. The colors are bright, light exposure is up, and repetitive montages are scattered all throughout. The relationship the main character has with her mother is grating and hard to watch, much like in I Killed My Mother the lead teen also acts quite entitled and rude, but in this instance, the character was so hard to stand in the first and even half of the second act. There wasn’t really anything that the mother did to trigger any sort of behavior from Joey (which, to be fair, typical teen behavior), and yet Joey is out there acting über-privileged and horrible to every poor soul she comes across. This isn’t to knock “unlikeable characters” per se, but it’s as if the film treats her like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls as our alternative ‘“it” girl’, the ‘anti-girl-next-door,’ the ‘rebellious’ type when she literally has nothing to rebel against and just decides to treat people like dirt. The cheesiness of the writing made certain parts dull to watch (especially as an adult) and the hypocrisy of the lead characters wince-inducing.
The relatability was not here for me. As much as the pretentious goth characters talk about “posers…” I was in pain as far as the representation of alternative style groups went. It was unintentionally funny at times, but as someone who loves alternative fashion and aesthetics themselves, I was amiss at how bad the costume design was. The clothing you see the goth characters wear is something you’d see in an 80s PSA where Christian moms try and pin trad goths as stereotypical bullies, only much less elaborate.
The stereotyping here is a little damning. I’m not offended so much as saddened that the opportunity to show off the truest nature of the fashion and subculture (especially considering the care and detail that takes place in real-life alternative fashion, i.e. decora, punk, Victorian, grunge, rocker, etc). Even the extras are better dressed as goths and punks in what looked like more natural wardrobes than the leading characters themselves, pasted with flat, bland, inconsistently-applied white and black makeup that feels more like Halloween costumes. The written behavior, speech, actions, and beliefs as “goths” were really unidentifiable from the goth and punk figures that I admire, observe, and speak with. I myself dabble in dressing in the fashion, and it’s nothing like all the cheap tutu, tule, matted hair, and velvet that the characters think to make them look… legit. So again, to see the characters identify others as posers… when they’re dressed worse than Monster High doll was ironic. All in all, the costuming department could have really used some Pinterest boards.
Otherwise, there were some good character moments to be had and I don’t see much reason to be too hard on the performances as any stiffness with the delivery didn’t seem to be on the due part of the cast, nor did it take away from the movie itself. That, and there were some really nice songs included in the soundtrack (see: “Extrasolar Heartbeat” by Golden Gardens, been in love with their single for years and was exciting to hear onscreen, at least).
Our Grade: D, There were some neat ideas here and there. Personally, as someone who grew up around these subcultures and actively take part in them, I was excited to see some representation in a modern teen flick. I’ve always wanted more movies where it was Graham Eaton’s, Janis Ian’s, Jane Lane’s, and Allison Reynold’s that were the lead characters. ‘As a Goth’ is in the title, but as a bit of a goth myself, I have to say that I was a bit let down. This could be fun for those who are more in the same age range as the lead character, but as someone who has finally surpassed teenage hood, I can’t say there was anything relatable about watching privileged and tone-deaf characters yammer on about what being “a goth” is about. In the end, I was unmoved but can see there is still some potential to be had in the concept of letting alt-folks take the reins on the role of the protagonist as well as the settings and characters.