My First Summer is such a delicate film full of tenderness and love that you can’t help but fall head over heels with it. From the absorbing script to the beautiful cinematography and the standout performances from its leads. Katie Found’s debut feature is one to cherish.
Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) has been isolated by her mother in a remote rural home miles away from the nearest town. Emotionally unequipped to cope with her mother’s suicide, Claudia hides in her ramshackle old house, her beloved dog her only company until the spirited Grace (Maiah Stewardson) breezes into her life. The two women quickly form a close bond, teaching each other the joy that can be found in life and falling in love along the way. But their idyllic summer can’t last forever, and as the adult world closes in on them, is Grace’s love strong enough to keep Claudia afloat?
Director of photography Matthew Chuang creates a dreamlike picture that when the two girls are near each other life and time just drifts by in an almost bright summer way. When Grace ever returns home or is around anyone other than Claudia however, it is noticeable how the tone changes with his camera. We are given a longer lens during those moments to highlight the distance that Grace feels towards her family. Almost all of these scenes look cold as well; a chill rises through you when Grace and Mike interact on the porch, highlighting the discomfort she has with him.
This never appears when Claudia is around, we move in closer, whether both are on screen or not. When the duo is together, Chaung’s lens causes the viewer a feeling of interrupting or spying on someone’s intimate moments. Claudia and Grace’s relationship is like a deer in a wood that you notice from a distance, the audience dares not to make a sound in case it startles it and ruins the beautiful image in front of us.
We get to witness the doubts and insecurities both have about this budding relationship as they nervously progress through their increasing encounters, this is what drives My First Summer. Despite the strong undercurrent of trauma and dealing with the process of death of a close relative, Found’s script excels when the two are together, leaving the audience at ease when so. Though never forgetting what has happened to Claudia and what Grace actually witnessed by the lake that night.
When Grace leaves at any time, be it to return home or for snacks, we feel Claudia’s fears of abandonment grow until Grace’s eventual return. Found happily doesn’t rush her film, letting the tone sink in with the audience as we watch these two young women fall for one another. By having such great characters, our two young leads get ample opportunity to shine, and they truly take the ball and run with this script.
Markella Kavenagh is sublime as the broken Claudia, a character desperate to figure out her next steps without being noticed. All the while desperate to have her mother returned to her or for her to take the same fate to be with her again. By having that undercurrent of grief and depression assist in carrying the narrative, Kavenagh can open herself up to the innocence of Claudia. Excelling at making the audience feel every confused and scared thought going through her head. She needs and craves love, and luckily for her, Grace turns up at the right time.
Grace is the bright, bubbly girl that is stereotypically the leads best friend in romantic comedies. Be it from her sunny disposition to her eccentric fashion sense. She brightens up the room, yet there is something dark lurking underneath the surface of her character. Her home life appears to be less than harmonious, with evidence of abuse visible. Yet, she grows and matures when seeing the plight that Claudia has found herself in. Taking on the responsible to ease troubled Claudia whenever panic begins to set in. Maiah Stewardson takes ownership of this character with the assuredness of a veteran actor. Yet youth shines through in her performance; we see the thoughts about her growing feelings for Claudia dance on her face. Nervous about taking claim of something, someone for herself. Like Kavenagh’s, it is a sincere performance from Stewardson.
Her chemistry with Kavanagh is electric, and you can feel the connection the two have right from the jump. They bounce off each other so well that you can see that these are two characters desperate for love. One needing someone to replace the person that she has tragically lost and the other from one she has struggled to ever have. These souls find one another, and the question is never raised about their sexuality or doubts about what they should do. It is a fluid romance that pulls you in as they nervously try to walk around how they should go forward with their feelings.
My First Summer takes you by surprise in a wonderful way and is a wonderfully weaved story about connection and is a sensitive film that feels special. This is one to watch; I purple promise.
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