If you took an American History class in high school, you know that the sixties were cool, but they sucked a lot too. I, a film critic of all people, don’t need to be the one to tell you what happened in the sixties. There were the hippies, and the poofy women’s haircuts, a dying sense of prim and proper leftover from the decade prior, and the ever-looming Vietnam War. Men who had never picked up a gun in their lives were being asked – nay, forced – to defend their country in a pointless war and most likely end up dead. Some, however, were gung-ho for the opportunity to prove their worth and their love for America and, thus, willingly enlisted – but many others were rightfully terrified.
The Vietnam War and the waste it laid not only to young American men but to the people closest to them, is the focus of director Sharon Wilharm’s film Summer of ’67. Based on real events, the film follows three young women after the men they love have been drafted into or enlisted into Vietnam: a mother, a pacifist, and a maid. Though a fairly basic-sounding narrative, its potential for a deep dive character study is lost to meandering plot threads, underdeveloped characters, and a distracting number of technical shortcomings – perhaps excused, if only the narrative were stronger. It’s a film about how men were not the only victims of the Vietnam War, but there’s a failure to provide true originality or insight into the women that suffered too.
After their mother felt she couldn’t emotionally or mentally handle the physical damage done to her husband, Howard, in the Korean War, sisters Milly (Rachel Shrey) and Kate (Bethany Davenport) lost her to suicide at a young age. Years later, Milly is a mum and bride-to-be to fiancé Gerald (Cameron Gilliam) who, against Milly’s wishes, after their marriage and after Milly has become pregnant again, has decided to enlist to fight in the Vietnam War due to dwindling job prospects. Kate’s boyfriend Peter (Christopher Dalton), has been dead-set on being a war hero since he was a teenager, much to the dismay of Kate’s peaceful, education-minded sensibilities. Despite assuring her he’d wait until after college, Peter enlists without Kate’s knowledge to be stationed on the USS Forrestal alongside Gerald. Meanwhile, maid for Kate and Milly’s family, Ruby Mae (Sharonne Lanier), finds love unexpectedly in Reggie the janitor (Jerrold Edwards), only for him to be taken away from her with the draft; but not before he proposes.
The film attempts to follow the emotional turmoil experienced by Kate, Milly, and Ruby Mae respectively, both leading up to and after their men have left for Vietnam – though it really only focuses on the former two of the three women. Milly must deal with living with her incorrigible mother-in-law and her pregnancy in Gerald’s wake, while Kate begins flirtations with a peaceable hippy boy named Van (Sam Brooks). But the film finds itself bogged down by a lack of true depth beyond basic exposition and narrative clarity. We know that men who go off to war leave behind broken loved ones, but there is an absence of genuine, thoughtful exploration which keeps the film merely skating safely on surface level throughout; never allowing us to get much closer to the characters or the story than arm’s reach.
The film’s flat lighting and awkward staging make most scenes feel clunky, while the camera occasionally swerves around characters with a tenacity best suited for a different type of film. Dialogue is overpowered by music swelling in the background, and characters look like modern-day people dressed up in 60s garb, as opposed to embodying the authenticity necessary for a period piece. There are a few shots that stand out (the wonderfully garish yellow of Milly’s mother-in-law’s home comes to mind), but it’s not enough, on top of a weak narrative, to keep everything from feeling decidedly anti-cinematic.
The sixties were a turbulent time, obviously – but that instability and heartache doesn’t come through in Summer of ’67. The film ends up feeling like an unfinished piece, full of loose threads that are left undone and fragmented characters lacking the complexity and richness to make them human. Summer of ’67 might have worked as a good first draft, but it needed a few more revisions before becoming a feature film.
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs