My First Summer review: Katie Found’s teen romance is a ‘sun-soaked tale of grief’

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Sometimes in our darkest moments, we find a new light.

With her Australian teen drama My First Summer, writer-director Katie Found has offered a sun-soaked tale full of sweetness and sensitivity.

In the aftermath of her troubled mother's death in a nearby lake, 16-year-old Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) hides out in the pair's secluded rural home and does all she can to shut the outside world out.

However, her world is opened up when the spirited and empathetic Grace (Maiah Stewardson) comes across Claudia's isolated habitat where she previously only existed with her pet dog once trapped by her grief.

As Grace coaxes Claudia further out of her shell, the pair offer a respite from their own personal troubles and become a safe haven for each other.

My First Summer is one of the many films at the BFI Flare Festival 2021
(Image: Courtesy of the BFI)

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Yet, this summer of love soon finds itself under threat as the authorities investigating the death of Claudia's mother encroach on their gentle romance.

Enriching her film with the same innocence and understanding of her leading ladies, Katie Found has offered a short but easy-going look at young love.

Despite the heavy themes at play in each of Claudia and Grace's stories, the audience can escape into the two's blossoming friendship and love story.

Grieving Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) comes to be emotionally rescued by Grace (Maiah Stewardson)
(Image: Courtesy of the BFI)

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Kavenagh has the hardest job of the leads as Claudia, much of whose journey through grief is internalised or reads as panic, but thankfully her chemistry with Stewardson coaxes out her best moments.

Stewardson herself brings charm and strength to the more outspoken and extroverted Grace, making her the ideal second half to this pairing.

It's a shame that Grace's home problems don't feel as well drawn as Claudia's difficulties, whose dark family history is handled with care and in a non-exploitative faction.

Much of the film's most relatable and moving sequences are of the two as they edge closer to an emotional intimacy and true understanding of the other's fears, which only makes the inevitable conflict all the more painful.

The two teens' friendship grows into a romance
(Image: Courtesy of the BFI)

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One of the strengths of the film is also its gorgeously filtered aesthetic and sense of place with cinematographer Matthew Chuang capturing the rugged and often ethereal landscape surrounding Claudia's shelter of grief.

Proceedings all end rather abruptly, however, and the resolution itself feels somewhat thin, but the tender care taken with the characters feels rewarding enough – particularly without any 'coming-out' angst that similar films of the genre become bogged down in.

Ultimately, Found has made a charming and understated romance with My First Summer and we can hope for further such offerings from this director.

Verdict

My First Summer is a sun-soaked tale of grief that also shows the healing power of love and human connection, even if some elements feel somewhat thinly drawn.

*My First Summer was shown as part of the Hearts strand at the BFI Flare London Film Festival 2021 which celebrates LGBTIQ+ cinema.

What is your favourite coming-of-age love story? Let us know in the comments below.

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