Last weekend, after a very hectic week, I was looking for a light and easy movie to watch and came across “The Last Summer”. The movie was nominated for the Teen Choice Award for Choice Summer Movies 2019 and is set in Chicago. It tracks the lives of several young people over their final summer break before they head off to college. I decided to watch it.
During the 70 days of summer, several of the characters go through various teenage issues – worrying about their impending college life, breaking up with their current partners in anticipation that long-distance relationships will not be sustainable, and searching for a clearer path to their destiny.
These 18-year-olds were trying to define themselves, and many of them were doing so by trying to compare themselves with their peers. The pressure to conform and excel in every way was apparent. Not only did they want to get into the best colleges, sometimes because of parental pressure, but they also wanted to be “cool” and in a dating relationship.
Even though I am more than 20 years older than them and don’t live in Chicago, I could see that many of the themes would be relatable to many viewers of all backgrounds and locations, including me.
Peer Pressure: The idea that one must be in some kind of a dating relationship forced some of these young people to date people that were not a good fit for them. In one case, Alec ended up dating the most popular girl Paige even though they had nothing to talk about. When he wanted to break up with her, his friend was aghast and said, “No one breaks up with Paige, till she decides she wants to break up with you.” In another case, Audrey felt compelled to date Tyler because she wanted to please her friend. And two young nerds, Chad and Reece, dressed up in suits and ties and pretended to be traders in order to date older women.
Treating women as objects: One of the young men, Foster wanted to look “cool” in keeping with his sportsman image and he made a list of all the girls ranked according to various physical attraction metrics. He then went on to pursue these girls and date them as per his rankings. Once he had dated one girl, he proceeded to move on to the next one on his list. This made the girls feel like commodities that could be used and discarded. His intentions were exposed when one of the girls on the list made it public and it went viral, thus alerting their peers. This is important, as many young girls are vulnerable to such inappropriate and often harmful advances by young men. Young girls may not know how to respond to such advances and may think it is appropriate to go along when in fact they are being used.
I know first-hand how demeaning such a situation can be. When I was a teenager, some of the boys in the neighbourhood made a bet as to who would be the first to date me. I was subsequently inundated with unwanted attention. The idea of consent should be part of every curriculum in school and conversation at home, so that young people know when not to cross the line and are also empowered to take action if they are at the receiving end of harassment.
Honesty in a relationship: Every healthy relationship is based on trust, mutual understanding and respect. These 18-year-olds are in the midst of finding their wings, leaving their sheltered family homes and moving into the big world of opportunity. In doing so, they are bound to meet people who would help define and shape their lives. Some of these early romances and relationships play an important part in their decision-making. For example, the main protagonists Griffin and Phoebe find themselves attracted to each other even though Phoebe wants to focus on her summer project, a film which, if it wins an award, would get her into grad school. However, Griffin’s father and Phoebe’s mother end up having a relationship, unbeknownst to Phoebe’s mother that Griffin’s father is married and lying to her. Griffin who has stumbled on the fact of the affair, is unsure of how to deal with this situation and chooses to stay silent and therefore complicit. Finally, he confronts his father, reveals the situation to his mother and apologises to Phoebe’s mother for not telling her the truth when he first found out. This is a valuable lesson in being honest even though the circumstances are extremely complicated.
Sustainability of relationships: In the age of Tinder, Bumble and other dating apps, it is important to be clear about what it is that one wants in a relationship. Some of these young people were clear that they would not be able to continue their relationship living in different cities. But some others were determined to continue and keep going, despite the distance. There was also the cameo of the infidelity of Griffin’s father and how it impacted the family; Griffin’s mother chose to work on her marriage.
The movie itself was not outstanding, but for a Sunday evening during COVID-19 it gave a good peek into teenage life. As someone who works on sexual violence prevention, I do believe that if we have more open conversations on healthy relationships and consent, we can encourage young people to safely discover themselves without hurting others.
Cover Image: IMDB