There is always a considerable amount of bias when watching a film. Your own experiences always have a way of sneaking in. Watching Summer Eleven invoked my current role as a Telecommunications student at Ball State University. When my peers make a feature or a short film, there is usually a large amount of heart and promise hidden in the frames. There are often a ton of problems with the filmmaking and the script, but that’s excused because a student makes it.
That’s how I approached Summer Eleven but then Adam Arkin showed up. Arkin is a familiar actor who was last seen in a Best Picture nominee. Then I realized that the writer/director Joseph Kell is not new to the business, but has been a television actor for several decades. This makes it more difficult to ignore the rough edges of this film.
Having a coming of age film from the point of view of four eleven-year-old girls through the course of one summer is a sweet topic. It’s just handled very bluntly at times. The dialog is awkward and too on-the-nose throughout the summer. It’s difficult to tell if the dialog matches the ages or even if their actions match their ages.
The editing doesn’t feel finished, all of the acting is stale, and the lighting is very standard. But this isn’t a bad film. There is not one ounce of cynicism or condescension in it. It has all the right intentions, but it doesn’t get there…yet. Just like students making their first film, I’m certain Kell knows what he needs to do next time.
If he focuses on fewer characters, I think he can make something special. In Summer Eleven there are too many things going on and in order to move forward he needs to rely on familiar material. There is a subplot with a brother (Steven Gayhm) who goes to Iraq and becomes cynical upon returning home. This is one of the storylines that needed to be fleshed out a little more in order to earn the emotional payoffs.
This is just a lesson in filmmaking. I’m sure Kell will make another film and I hope he does. There are few films that focus on being this sweet. So many family films, like the ones from Dreamworks, are more interested in dropping pop culture references and things that only work for one age group. Kell wants to make something for the entire family and this does that.