We all know that life isn’t like the movies and, after Christmas, no other time of year is more overly-glamorised by films than summer. So, how different does it get?
The typical cinematic summer experience can, by and large, be boiled down to the idea of the central character (or characters) coming-of-age. The use of a summer break to achieve this is a universal one, although, if we simply take the US film industry depiction of a summer holiday, the presentation of these trips is often far detached from the reality of modern American life.
This particular trope of summer cinema can be found most predominantly on the other side of the pond. The American concept of ‘vacation’ can be found dotted throughout a number of genres. From the summer camps of the 80s slasher craze – the most notable of course being Camp Crystal Lake of Friday the 13th fame – to the jovial family road-trip depicted in films such as the genuinely abysmal Vacation; an astonishing number of summertime films are focused on the concept of trying to enjoy a typical summer break, whether it be with family, friends or school.
If we take the most recent offering from Marvel as a high-profile example, Spider-Man: Far from Home is predominantly a story based on growth. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame (which rest assured will not be spoiled here), Peter Parker is emotionally a wreck. Marvel takes the somewhat brave decision to send the character off to Europe for nearly the entire duration of the film under the guise of a summer field trip. A recurring theme within the movie is the desire of Parker to be a ‘normal teenager’ and to be able to simply enjoy his trip abroad. The normalisation of having a summer holiday is perhaps in direct opposition to the reality that a number of poorer Americans face; often workers are not guaranteed paid holiday time and are unable to even consider taking the time off to take a trip abroad or embark on a traditional American road-trip. Most, if not all of the depictions are of families who can outwardly afford to take glamorous (if not always entirely successful) trips to summer camps, holiday resorts or theme parks when in reality this is not the case.
Of course, there is plenty of mileage for films choosing to focus upon the holiday, however it is always good to consider that these overly-glamorised depictions of what makes a ‘typical American getaway’ are simply that; over-the-top, colourised re-enactments that make admittedly entertaining settings for movies.
When it comes to summer movies, the summer-love classic, The Notebook, always comes to mind. It truly is a romantic movie, but I doubt anyone would set their relationship goal as “spending the rest of your life with a guy you have only known for two months when you are 17” (Unless he is Ryan Gosling, then yes please). Movies cannot reflect how ordinary people live most of the time and, to be fair, it would be quite lame if they did, especially for summer here in Hong Kong. It’s not like we can go to the beach whenever we want, or own a family lake house to spend our summer in. In fact, most people are stuck doing school-work, even in summer. Most of the university students will choose to attend summer semesters to gain more credits, so they can juggle fewer modules in the next academic year. Some spend their summer working as an intern or studying short courses abroad, to prepare themselves for the cruel competition they are going to face after graduation. And it’s not only university students who have to plan out their future, young kids in Hong Kong often take summer tutorial courses and have to deal with extra paperwork. With their parents at work, it is almost impossible to enjoy a family vacation, not to mention a road trip. Besides, it is quite unusual for people in Hong Kong to start talking strangers, and they definitely wouldn’t start going out with one like Dirty Dancing.
Summertime in movies is always so carefree and flirtatious. It’s fun, young and expensive (very, very expensive), and unrealistically romantic. It might be hard to spend the summer the way they do, but a little fantasy won’t hurt, and the movies play a big part for in helping us to survive the other seasons throughout the year.
Ever since I was young, movies have shaped my expectations. I was sure of it: the only reason life wasn’t “just like in the movies” was because I was twelve, later on life and the movies would be the exact same thing; and I couldn’t wait.
Dirty Dancing is a perfect example. Every summer, after watching the film, I would keep wondering where “MY summer fling that’ll change my life forever and teach me how to dance” would occur. The answer? Probably not the trip to a mini bungalow, booked by my parents, in which the only dancing I got to do was to the sound of a mediocre, thirty-year-old DJ screaming “everybody put your hands up!” Nobody raised their hands, of course, apart for a small group of middle-aged ladies that had briefly escaped their husbands to enjoy life. Ouch. Summer fling: cancelled.
But what about quality family time? Well, for many of us, summer and family just don’t add up. RV by Barry Sonnenfeld perfectly portrays what to expect on a family trip… apart from the happy ending, obviously. After a year apart from each other, the whole family is suddenly forced to live together in a twenty metre square? In a foreign environment? I’d like to order one disaster cocktail, please. But you’ll get in the car anyway, rolling your eyes and thinking “here we go again”: never-ending fights about who chooses the music and what to do. Really, you would much rather stay at home and watch RV.
In fact: don’t try to spend your summers like in the movies, just watch movies during summer.