Fictional films, shows, and documentaries depict relationships between girls and women as ones with higher emotion. The same goes for Katie Found’s My First Summer, but it somehow works as a counterpoint against media about women because it arrives at those emotions with effortless subtlety. This is at its truest when teenage Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) is by herself feeling her late mother’s energy. Their bond is strong and inescapable, which isn’t always the best thing.
My First Summer‘s has Claudia living in isolation in a rural yet lush part of Australia, her mother Veronica was a writer who kept Claudia with her. There’s a silver lining in Veronica’s passing in that it lets another influence in her life. That’s Grace (Maiah Stewardson), a girl her age who agrees to keep Claudia’s living conditions a secret. Grace, though, has her own dreams of getting out of Australia.
The film rides that balance between taking in the perspective of teenage girls while having a bit of hindsight from adult filmmakers who have other ideas about what’s best for teenagers. It lets both Claudia and Grace play house and legitimize their fears of the outside world without infantilizing them. The closest it has for villains are two cops. But it doesn’t show those peripheral characters as unwelcome intruders to the world they built.
My First Summer‘s subtlety is also an asset in depicting these girls’ burgeoning sexuality. I respect other media when they exaggerate that part of a girl’s growth, but its approach feel like literal fruity essences instead of tacky perfumes. There’s also a pervading air of sunlight here, the cinematography and sets playing with these girls’ open secret. This film earned a cult audience, and it’s never too late to catch this bright, hidden gem.