Personnel Thoughts: Our Picks for Favorite Summer Sundance Film Flings

photo courtesy of Focus Features

Here at the Sundance Institute, we talk a lot about film. Whether it’s helping co-workers figure out what to watch this weekend or feeling positively ancient when we hear that a movie from our youth is celebrating a big anniversary, we’ve got thoughts, feelings, and recommendations for indie film lovers ready to go. Welcome to our regular series where Sundance Institute employees bring our most passionate hot takes about independent cinema to you. This is Personnel Thoughts.

The calendar might say September, but the massive heat waves and still longer days make us wistful for carefree summers and someone special to share them with. Just close your eyes and think about the warm wind in your hair, fresh air in your lungs, and your hand being held by your favorite summer fling. Relaxing, isn’t it?

If you don’t want to walk down your own memory lane, the Sundance Film Festival is chockablock with cinematic flings to walk through the grass with. From road trip trysts to the last day of camp, these four films are perfect to fill your endless summer nights.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

It’s the last day of camp in 1981. The teenage counselors at Camp Firewood need to make their last attempts at summer romance NOW, or wait until they all meet up at 9 or 9:30 a.m. (but not at 11 because McKinley [Michael Ian Black] has a thing and he’s already had to change it twice), on the same day 10 years from now. 

This movie is silly, eccentric, and at times very dark (Molly Shannon’s Gail leans on her arts & crafts campers to help her through her divorce, and Christopher Meloni’s Gene is a Vietnam vet with PTSD who can only connect with… a talking tin can [H. Jon Benjamin]). But there’s also sweetness: the film treats McKinley and Ben’s (Bradley Cooper) sports shed hookup with the utmost seriousness, in stark contrast to the hilarious, sloppy makeout sessions between camp douchebag Andy (Paul Rudd) and Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks). 

Plus, you can’t beat a movie where a ragtag gang of kids help David Hyde Pierce bring down part of Skylab. Sounds insane? It is, and that’s exactly why I still love this movie (and the accompanying Netflix series). 

P.S. I also have to give an honorable mention to Bottle Shock, which I’m not even sure is set in the summer. But it tells the story of how California wines (my personal favorite summer companion) got on the international wine map. Plus, Chris Pine in a wig. C’mon!  — Rachel Brethauer, Content Marketing Manager, Sundance Collab

Sylvie’s Love (2020)

Call me old-fashioned (and pardon the whimsical metaphor), but the best summer fling in my mind is the one that becomes a forever catch.

That’s why I admire Sylvie’s Love, a sweet period romance with Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha. From the moment the young musician enters the record shop where Sylvie works for her father — while watching I Love Lucy and her other beloved television shows — we know these two belong together. 

Sacrificing their feelings for what each believes best for the other, the talented jazz saxophonist and the aspiring TV producer spend years apart before realizing that life is too short to not be with the one you love. That, by the way, is not really a spoiler. That happy ending is suggested in the first scene.

Set in the 1950s and ’60s, the movie is also filled with the bright tiny-waisted frocks and jazzy tunes of the time, making it a visual, aural, and sentimental journey.  — Vanessa Zimmer, Associate Editorial Manager

Real Women Have Curves (2002) 

Anyone who’s seen Real Women Have Curves knows that the film is not really about Ana and Jimmy falling in love or having that cliche summer romance before going off to college. It’s more about what Ana (America Ferrera) learns when she meets Jimmy and what she discovers about herself as the two high school seniors get close. 

I grew up in a Latinx household, so this film means a lot to me. Ana really cares for her family and it’s so evident that she’s close with her mother and her sister, but she also struggles between wanting to meet their traditional expectations — as well as help provide support for them financially — and wanting to go off to college to start a new life of her own. 

After revealing that she lost her virginity to Jimmy, Ana is questioned by her enraged mother. Instead of asking for forgiveness and submitting to her mom, she tries to explain the value of her womanhood beyond her body. You can clearly see a shift in Ana’s overall demeanor after her sexual awakening. 

I absolutely love Ana’s self-confidence and how it only gets stronger as the film progresses. She’s proud of her body despite the fact that her mother and other members of her family try to make her feel that she shouldn’t be. Jimmy is just a small part of Ana’s journey, as summer comes to an end and she realizes there’s so much more in store for her. — Stephanie Ornelas, Brand and Editorial Writer 

Y tu mamá también (2002)

Half a year after its meteoric release, Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también played as a special screening at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. And while the Mexican sun and scenery was sure to warm up the parka crowd in Park City, the film’s original release date of June 8, 2001, is a lot more fitting to feel like you’re in packed the car with Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal), Tenoch (Diego Luna), and Luisa (Maribel Verdú).

Yes, I’m aware that the term “summer fling” usually refers to the sweet relationship between two budding loves that are ripped apart when the first leaf falls (either at camp, the beach, the mountains, the summer job etc), but it’s hard to argue that the evolving relationship between best friends Julio and Tenoch in the summer of 1999 doesn’t fit the bill! Let us count the ways together:

  • Best friends that are newly single on a journey together? Check. (Though it is iffy because just because they decided to be bachelors after their trip to Italy doesn’t mean they don’t actually have girlfriends at home…)
  • A new situation that they are thrown into that makes them look at each other in a new light? Check. (Louisa, the beach, the motel rooms, the tension, I could go on…)
  • Time limits that cut the relationship down in its prime? Check. (After their drunken night together, the pair drive home and stop being friends, only seeing each other once ever again.)

Y tu mamá también
is as fluid and sticky as it is gorgeous and innovative. The film takes the paint-by-numbers coming-of-age and road trip narratives into a blurred look at sexuality, friendship, and death. — Bailey Pennick, Associate Editorial Director

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