Although deep down she loves them, Tana (Macarena Gómez) is embittered with her eccentric and unbalanced family – in which everyone has an opinion about the other person’s problems, but is blind to their own. Devastated by the passing of her father, Tana battles to understand why her grandmother outwardly blames her mother for his death; why her Aunt Carmen refuses to accept her son Tomas’ homosexuality (Eduardo Casanova); why her aunts constantly bicker; and why her sister, Estela, is committed to a loathsome, cheating man. Nevertheless, Tana has hatched an escape plan: to move to Sydney, Australia with her boyfriend. However, things don't always go to plan...
SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: The Summer Side is such an unfathomably shrill and gaudy melodrama, it’s next to impossible to care at all about the troubles befalling the extended family of a late patriarch. In the central role of Aunt Carmen, writer-director Antonia San Juan is the worst offender, and perhaps the most unlikable character of 2013. But she is by no means alone in a work that plays more like a daytime soap than a worthwhile festival entrant.
Plot developments are meagre and telegraphed
The biggest problem in San Juan’s 'comedy’ is its large ensemble of thoroughly obnoxious characters. The only remotely compassionate presence is Tana (Macarena Gomez), a bright and personable college-age woman whose dreams of relocating to Australia are disrupted by the untimely passing, an event that brings together family members who have shared a simmering dislike for each other for some time.
Each character is a thinly-etched caricature (the loud, old woman; the meek, closeted gay teenager; the shallow husband; the lovable but tragic girl) and none are afforded any meaningful narrative arc. Plot developments are meagre and telegraphed, leaving just the constant bickering between the warring factions to generate any drama. A condescending tone infuses the performances, as if the director doesn’t really like her characters or their social standing. Nearly all the women are bitter and mean, with most of the men buffoonish or weak. Past indiscretions and betrayals are dragged out to amplify the general immorality of all involved, but no counterpoint is offered to make them well-rounded, believable people.
Much has been made of the fact that the production took place on The Canary Island, suggesting San Juan and her DOP Pablo Rosso (the [REC] trilogy, Sleep Tight) might offer up a sunny backdrop to help lighten the mood. Sadly, the opposite is true; almost every scene is staged in tight, crowded small spaces like an apartment’s kitchen, a cafe or a waiting room, giving the film a stark, flavourless aesthetic.
Antonia San Juan has a very high profile at home. She parlayed the fame from her breakthrough role in Almodovar’s All About My Mother into a vocal and brash public persona that sees her as a social commentator and critic of sorts. The Summer Side feels like a vanity project run amok, a singular vision crafted by an ego that could not be reined in. The film was produced by San Juan, along with Ian Stewart and big-screen rookie Luis Miguel Segui (brought on board after having worked with San Juan on the hit TV series La que se avecina). Judging by the result, it clearly needed strong, experienced producers to focus its themes and execution.