The Summer I Turned Pretty Review: Another coming-of-age triangular love story that lacks depth
As the title suggests, the year Belly turns ‘pretty’ has her desperately wanting to break out of having a typical summer as she navigates through her highs and lows.
Taking off from the successful film franchise of To all the boys I’ve loved before, comes another love story, The summer I turned pretty, created, written and co-produced by Jenny Han. The story, also based on a book series, is set in a fictional place called Cousin’s beach. The seven-episode-long series explores the life of Belly, aka Isabella (Lola Tung), whose summer break during her sweet 16 sends a lot of sparks flying between her and brothers – Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremiah Fisher (Gavin Casalegno).
As the title suggests, the year Belly turns ‘pretty’ has her desperately wanting to break out of having a typical summer as she navigates through her highs and lows. Things are not the same at Susannah’s (Rachel Blanchard) house, where Belly and her brother Steven (Sean Kaufman) spend their summers every year. Will this be the year Conrad reciprocates Belly’s love that she has had for him since she was 10? This is also the year that Susannah wants Belly to attend the ‘deb ball’ to present her to society. Will one of her sons take her to the ball, or will someone else win her heart?
Director: Jenny Han
Cast: Lola Tung, Gavin Casalegno, Christopher Briney, Rachel Blanchard, Jackie Chung, David Iacono
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Borrowing a line from James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013), sometimes watching triangular love stories is like stepping on chewing gum. It follows you everywhere and is a recurring theme in every second rom-com film. Yet, this series isn't treated any different. With 45 minutes of runtime for every episode, the series has enough time to talk about all the three boys – Conrad, Jeremiah and Cam (David Iacono), but doesn’t do so. The series places Belly at the epicentre, and the other characters revolve around her.
Conrad Fisher looks like a character brought up straight from the depths of depression. He has his battles and is cold to everyone around him until Belly arrives and does what every female protagonist does to the male lead – make him open up and instill feelings in his heart.
Jeremiah, a happy-go-lucky swim coach, is described as the boy who “flirts with everyone” and likes to be involved with everyone. He has shades of queer personality, but they are never revealed out loud.
Water is a recurring theme throughout the series. Glimpses of water are frequently thrown around, and Belly constantly swims in and out of them – be it her pool, the nearby lake or the ocean. There are birds-eye view shots of the sea that are placed in between scenes. In one way, the waves can be compared to Belly’s ever-moving heart that bounces back between Conrad and Jeremiah. She struggles to ground herself and belong at one place, like the sea that takes with itself whatever you give to it.
Belly doesn’t take one moment to pause between being romantically involved with either Cam, Jeremiah or Conrad. If she did, the series would have ended by the fourth episode. The cozy, feel-good vibe diminishes post the third episode and feels overly stretched in many places.
The impacts of divorce, drugs and repressed trauma are spoken about in passing but you wish they were explored in depth. In reality, Susannah’s family does go through a ton of pain, but since the characters of her boys – Conrad and Jeremiah – aren’t fleshed out well, your heart doesn’t go out for them, especially Conrad, who doesn’t have a vent out for the emotions he is dealing with. The only exception is in the climax of the series. Even a scene on gambling addiction doesn’t land strongly as you want it to be.
The best part of The summer I turned pretty is that it gives room for female friendships to thrive. The bond that Laura and Susannah share is beautiful. While the former is divorced and single, the latter has a complicated relationship with her husband. They are mothers of erratic, growing teenagers, but most importantly, they also play the role of best friends and middle-aged women who don’t shy away from ranting away their sorrows and shoving tubs of sugar and carbs after smoking pot. At one point, Susannah also suggests Laura set up a profile on Tinder. They are not embarrassed about their sexual needs either. In their own words, they are “immovable objects” who are there for each other no matter what.
When Belly and Taylor (Rain Spencer) have a tiff, it is Laura, Belly’s mother, who gives her peace of mind by saying, “You know boys might come and go but a best friend is a once in a lifetime.” Instead of coddling with her mistakes, Taylor also reminds Belly that she should not only care about the story where she is the main character. Such moments make The summer I turned pretty stand apart from its run-in-the-mill rom-com counterparts.