MY SUMMER AS A GOTH ticks all the right boxes for a YA story designed to offer the comfort of the familiar in a framework that sets up a gaggle of paper tigers for the heroine (and her audience) to confront. A brooding bad boy, a dangerous bad boy, and a tempestuous mother-daughter relationship provide everything a YA girl could want in a story, plus tips on how to go Goth without losing your identity under all that pancake.
Said heroine is Joey (Natalie Shershow), a 16-year-old still coping with the recent loss of her father. She’s sent to spend the summer with her quirky grandparents (Fayra Teeters, Jonas Israel) while her mother (Sarah Overman), a famous horror author, is on a book tour. Bored but not petulant in the affluent suburb in which she finds herself, she is immediately intrigued by the boy next door, Victor (Jack Levis), a Goth masterpiece of studied ennui spending the summer with his grandparents. Things don’t click for Joey, though, until she sees him doing something that seems desperate as she cycles through the neighborhood after dark. One thing leads to another, and the worldly Victor sweeps Joey into his subculture courtesy of pals Cob and Pen (Carter Allen, Jenny White) a vintage clothes store, and a series of music-filled montages. Cue the candle-filled crypt and serious smooching (just smooching) until dawn. Further cue the Goth vamp (Sophie Giberson) who shakes Joey’s confidence.
Shershow is great, and highly relatable in the classic YA way. Pretty, but not too pretty. Insecure in an adorable way, but not so crippled by it as to be prevented from exploring new friends and their lifestyle while also pursuing a summer romance. Her part is written well enough, but the contentious relationship with her mother never gets the depth that it’s due. The grandparents flitter in and out of the action while being alarmingly ineffectual at monitoring their charge once she starts staying out all night with only the flimsiest of excuses a largest of hangovers. Then again, their function here is strictly to crack wise and take everyone camping. This is a situation more suitable for a farce than the serious ambitions of this dramedy. As the mysterious object of obsession, Levin carries off both the look and the insufferable imperiousness of a teenager who thinks he has found all the answers and wants everyone to know about it. The aura of rebellion and power (he’s constantly reminding her of the necessity of re-application of cosmetics) is the classic YA catnip. As the other bad boy, Antonio (Eduardo Reyes), provides gangbanger light with some credible menace to his switchblade and constant harassment of the Goths.
Well-meaning and certainly full of heart, MY SUMMER AS A GOTH serves its target audience without stretching beyond the demographic. It challenges neither expectations, nor cinematic conventions as it serves up its candy-sweet message in a non-threatening way that takes no chances.