Written & Directed by Kenton Hall
Starring Scarlet Hall, Hero Hall & Kenton Hall
Review by Chris Olson
A post-modern adventure that depicts the spirit of youth as chaotic and unrestrained, where rules are meant to be broken - both literally and artistically.
Daisy (Hero Hall) and her sister Maisie (Scarlet Hall) live with their father Henry (Kenton Hall), a writer who shows a refreshingly blunt approach to fatherhood, at one point asking his girls “So girls, do you have any questions about menstruation?”. Henry attempts to give his daughters direction with bold sarcasm and protective lecturing, but his openness and humour is met with quick rebukes from his offspring who seem more than capable of tackling life’s hardships.
Growing up is hard, but the focus of A Dozen Summers is on the viewpoint which can be found in a 12-year-old, who is able to see the world from a unique perspective. The cusp of puberty, the tipping point to teenage years, offers a wonderful landing point for a story about life’s foibles, and the idea that formative years can take wildly different directions depending on your guide is compelling.
These girls have a particularly focused outlook on life, dissecting it directly to the camera for the audience to understand their conflicts. Adults are not the sage mentors dispensing wisdom like a vending machine, and can in fact be seen as infantile bigger people, who just happened to make it to the other side of puberty. There is a comic farcicality to Kenton Hall’s story, especially where the adults are concerned, that reveals the confusing nature of “growing up”, especially when the role models around us are riddled with imperfections.
Running parallel to the themes of adult incompetence, Maisie and Daisy face regular confrontations with a group of bullies, who throw around hurtful “stigmas” like being a “lesbian”, without really understanding the term or why it would even be derogative. This blurry confusion that surrounds youthful tormenting is wonderful to see from the girl’s point of view, as it is an important part of the growing process, and they deal with the insults with a grace that would rarely be found in many adults. Not all their peers are monstrous homophobes though, and puppy love is thrown in as another emotional unbalancing blow.
The structural approach of having the girls make a movie about their lives offers an artistic freedom that is totally necessary to explore the themes in a new and exciting way. Kenton Hall tackles the story with sensitivity, but never shying away from the moments which could be deemed inappropriate, instead using humour and frankness to open a dialogue which is consistently appealing. Using the editing, the film is able to dispense quick cuts and fantasy sequences to introduce great comedy moments, without being limited by conventional methods.
Speaking of dialogue, the script is where A Dozen Summers is on shakier ground. Hero and Scarlet are not able to offer the lines much in terms of emotional diversity, coming across like a school play in some scenes - but this is their first feature and what they do achieve is hugely impressive. The more seasoned actors are able to swoop in and lift the script up at times though, especially Kenton Hall himself, who delivers many chuckles with his modern dad, as well as moments of inner reflection. It was also lovely to see Ewen Macintosh (of The Office fame) turn up in a small role as a newsagent cashier.
More could have been done with the wilder aspects of the movie, taking on a more diverse range of scenes and locations in order to fully utilise the unrestrained methodology. By the middle section of the film the story settles into a more everyday aesthetic which looses momentum. It is testament to Hall’s filmmaking, though, that audiences will want more. As a children's comedy film, the laughs and giggles need to be ever-flowing though, with plenty of imagination thrown in.
It’s fantastic to see a British comedy with such a fresh and ambitious spirit. A Dozen Summers brilliantly captures a unique perspective on the coming-of-age genre, with heartfelt sensitivity, goofy quirks, and plenty of moxie.