We are being prepared for a children’s adventure film by a Narrator (Colin Baker), his voice exactly as full of wonderment and enthusiasm as we might expect, when he finds himself interrupted. “Are you filming children?” asks a voice, off-camera. It belongs to one of two twins, Daisy and Maisie McCormack, played by real-life sisters Hero and Scarlet Hall. Before the poor Narrator can even register what’s going on, they’ve hijacked the film, and proceed to take us on a through-their-own-lens journey through modern adolescence with the help of their tragically trendy dad, their tragically beautiful mother, and a whole heap of film editing techniques.
Written and directed by the girls’ real-life father Kenton Hall, what we have here is a film that is difficult really to quantify, especially not by reference to other pictures it resembles, normally the bread-and-butter of film criticism. First, it has a peculiar title, because it doesn’t unfold over a dozen Summers. Given that the girls are still in school over the course of its narrative, it doesn’t even unfold over one Summer. It isn’t until the film’s nearly over that we realise it’s named after the song that plays over the end credits (and presumably also the number of Summers the girls have lived through, but that’s neither here nor there really). Secondly, it’s aimed neither at kids nor adults, but at that awkward demographic who are mostly too busy enjoying faux-mature titles such as Twilight or The Hunger Games to engage with something this offbeat. Thirdly, it demands that its viewer have an understanding of film techniques and history that might render it inaccessible to the young crowd. Case in point: after a parody of Reservoir Dogs’ “Little Green Bag” sequence, a character complains of “slow-motion sickness”. It’s a smart, funny line, to be sure. But is it an accessible one? And how many 12-year olds have seen Reservoir Dogs, or other films parodied here such as The Shining or The Seventh Seal? On the other hand, adults are likely to be put off by its tween-friendly narrative (of the respective love-lives of their estranged parents, and coming-of-age in general), obvious pacing and, most of all, the performances of Scarlet and Hero Hall. I think it’s absolutely wonderful for them that, at their young age, they’ve been able to participate in something so smart, unique, and so obviously a blast to be part of. Their father is obviously a very loving one. However, they cannot act, even slightly, and this is unfortunate when they’re on screen for 99% of the entire end product. The friends of Daisy and Maisie fare no better acting-wise, and one is forced to presume that they were cast only due to being friends of Hero and Scarlet.
As a picture, the script is good enough and the experience interesting enough that it’s worth watching – but just barely. I often got the feeling that I was not so much a film fan enjoying a movie as a teacher marking a media studies assignment, and the thing is that as an assignment, I wouldn’t hesitate to award it an “A”. But, just as even the best piece of writing you’ve ever seen by a child wouldn’t rival Of Mice and Men, what feels like an exceptionally clever piece of class work doesn’t make for compelling entertainment, but if you’re lucky enough to have clever and open-minded children of about the right age, give them a go with it and see if in a few years you can’t turn them into aficionados of Tarantino, Kubrick and Bergman.
A Dozen Summers is now available on DVD in the UK, will you be buying yourself a copy? Let us know in the comment box below!