Half-way through the Amazon original series ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’, I told myself – “if scenario A turns out to be climax, I will give this show a 7.5, if things end in scenario B, it’s going to be a 6/10”. Now that I am done watching it, I am confused between five and six. Scenario B it was.
The series is based on a book by Jenny Han, who is also an executive producer of the show. This is what hits you first about it – everything is super pretty. From all the actors playing the teen cast, to the houses, cafes, club-house, everything is aesthetically pleasing to the eye… some of the buildings looked like those hyper-realistic cakes people bake these days.
The story unfolds in a beach town called Cousins, where protagonist Belly/Isabella (Lola Tung) goes every summer with her family, to spend time with her mom’s best-friend Susannah and sons. Almost 16, Belly has had a crush on Susannah’s older son Conrad (Christopher Briney) since she was eight. Unknown to her, Conrad’s cute pan-sexual brother Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) – who would date anybody that looks good enough – also likes her.
So, as the title suggests, Belly’s 16th summer turns to be quite different from all her other vacations before, because she turned ‘pretty’ that year – code for ‘doesn’t wear big glasses, braces and nerdy clothes anymore’. The plot is standard territory – a beautiful girl is torn must choose hot brother A and hot brother B, oh what a hard life it is. Also, one brother is the older broody, unreadable, sulky kind, the other is a fun-loving, adorable, laid-back guy, who do you think a typical heroine will choose? Your guess is probably as right as mine. Why do we even have the done to death ‘torn between siblings’ trope in 2022? It should be limited to porn and period pieces.
The adult relationships in the series were a lot more enjoyable than the teen drama going on. The friendship between Belly’s author mother Laura (Jackie Chung) and Susannah (Rachel Blanchard) made for a heartwarming watch, even though at points it felt like they were a little too involved in each other’s life. For example, there’s a scene where Laura and Susannah have a disagreement over how Susannah is handling her marriage and Laura talks about how she would have to clean up Susannah’s mess. Why? She is her best-friend, not her mother. Otherwise, Jackie Chung and Rachel Blanchard play really cool individuals and onscreen moms.
Lola Tung makes a lovely lead, but come episode 5, her character Belly has too many margaritas and starts to behave like an idiot; Tung’s acting ability finally slips, she isn’t convincing as a drunk and is just extremely annoying to watch for the first time in the show. All the boys (subtle shade to Jenny Han’s other popular book) in the series have the screen-time almost evenly distributed and deliver whatever brief was given to them. Christopher Briney and Gavin Casalegno convincingly play brothers with contrasting personalities, although Briney’s character is mundanely one-dimensional. Yet, he is the one Belly pines for and would probably build a shrine for. Sean Kaufman as Belly’s older protective brother Steven is charming; Minni Mills plays his gorgeous petite rich girlfriend Shayla, and the two are adorable together. Although, Steven and Jeremiah have way more chemistry than Belly and Jeremiah. Team Stevia (Steven + Jeremiah) over Team Jelly (Belly + Jeremiah). That would’ve shaken things a bit.
‘The Year I Turned Pretty’ is just another basic teen romance, which surprisingly shines more while dealing with its older characters than the young confused ones. Since everything looks picture-perfect, so the series is definitely easy on the eyes. All the girls wear cutesy outfits, the boys have dreamy bodies, and everybody seems to be rich enough to have fancy houses and lavish parties. The soundtrack is strewn with popular upbeat songs, so you get tracks from Nicki Minaj, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and the likes.
It’s definitely a very ‘summer’ film, with gorgeous arial shots of beaches and bungalows. All the visual, audio elements make it quite the likable watch. Although don’t think it deserves a season two. Unless #Stevia happens. It’s a 6/10 from me.
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