Mark Thiedeman may eventually prove a director worth watching, but he needs to learn when to edit things down. I firmly believe that Last Summer is a great short film stretched out to feature length, if only just barely qualifying as such. There’s no prosaic exposition apart from the opening scene which quickly lays out the entirety of the drama, but there is a most pleasing lyrical quality to the images.
But beautiful images will only get you so far in effectively telling a story. Last Summer’s plot can be summarized in one sentence: two gay teens are spending their last few days of idyllic teenage romance together before college will tear them apart. There’s little in the way of dialog, character development, but there’s plenty of stolen glances and quiet moments of emotional shorthand between longtime friends and lovers.
For all of the good in Last Summer, it eventually proves slightly tiresome in just how prolonged the inevitable feels. It doesn’t help that the performances also imbalance the romance, with Samuel Pettit providing a solid anchoring study while Sean Rose feels slightly awkward in conveying his character. We’re thrown tidbits of information about their stories, but none of it is deeply explored.
There is one moment of tenderness and heartbreak in Last Summer that the film needed more of. Rose’s Jonah, yearning to break out of their Arkansas small town life, asks Pettit’s Luke, content where he is at, to tell him to stay. Jonah’s afraid of not only leaving his home, but losing his emotional support and having to reorganize his life without Luke around. Luke refuses each time, and he knows that if he did ask him to stay that Jonah would and that this would probably become a point of contention between them. Love and growing up are hard, and losing your first love is an ache you never quite forget.
Last Summer explores this in a Terrence Malick-like manner, but it’s stretched too thin with too many pretentious diversions (like a soundtrack made up of classical pieces). A shorter running time would have fixed some of these problems, forcing Thiedeman to narrow his focus and make the emotional moments like the one mentioned above hit harder. There’s good here, but it all feels too inconsequential or too imbalanced or too lackadaisical to really bring it on in during the home stretch.