My First Summer [InsideOut21 Review]

Heartwarming films are rare when it comes to LGBTQ+ features, more often than none, queer suffering is at the center of those films, especially when it comes to films that are about teenagers. So when a film comes along that just feels good, brings you joy when you watch it, and it’s so unapologetically queer, it’s just so difficult to ignore it. My First Summer is just that, a labour of love, a love story that feels so fresh and also so real. It’s calm even in the chaos, the hopefulness of two teenagers finally finding the thing they have been looking for. It’s a story that just takes your breath away and you don’t let it out until the very last frame.

My First Summer is about Claudia (Markella Kavenagh), having lived in social isolation for all of her 16 years, is alone for the first time after her mother’s unexpected death. Grace (Maiah Stewardson), a local teen, encounters Claudia in the woods and sets out to protect her from the outside world. Slowly but surely, Claudia and Grace share their own private worlds with each other, and a private romance begins to blossom unencumbered by disruptions from the external world.

While at the surface My First Summer is a love story between Claudia and Grace, it is also an exploration of isolation, trauma and grief. Themes that resonated with me on a level that I didn’t even comprehend until I sat and thought about this film. As a queer kid, I isolated myself from everyone and everything. Opening myself up was hard, even still is today to a certain extent. I can count the number of friends I have on one hand while others only knowing me on a surface level. It’s was always about protecting myself and my identity. Today, I isolate myself to protect my own mental health but it isn’t a far fetch to see how this all stems from my teenage years.

Isolation is common when it comes to queer kids and My First Summer handles it in a way that feels real but unique. Claudia’s isolation comes from being hidden, from her own mother’s mental health problem and view of the world. Relating to this isn’t hard, it is even too easy and yet, the arrival of Grace in Claudia’s life is never presented as her arriving to save her. She opens the world to her but also grows alongside. Just like Claudia, Grace is isolated but in a different way. Her isolation stems from rocky family life, from a family that doesn’t seem concerned about the fact that she goes away from long hours at a time. Their struggle parallels each other and together, they discover the world, see the world through each other’s eyes. As they fall in love, they also open the world to each other.

But My First Summer doesn’t stop there. With Claudia, we explore grief and trauma through her losing her mother. It is clear that the relationship between the two was one of co-dependence, an unhealthy relationship that sheltered Claudia inside the house that is also her world. The only people she knew were her mother and dog, no one else knows of her existence until Grace’s arrival. It’s a subtle trauma, one that is developed over its runtime but also that is explored just enough to understand Claudia’s psyche, to why she is the way she is. Her trauma is never there to be made light of or even advantage of, it’s presented in a respectful and insightful way. Trauma is too often in films presented as a shiny and pretty thing, but My First Summer explores that idea in a way that is almost never done in film, a way that presents it the way it is, a detriment to a young woman’s mind. 

The love story between Claudia and Grace is truly one of those stories that you can’t help but smile while watching. One of two girls discovering themselves together and their love helping each other heal. Director Katie Found, with the help of the incredible chemistry between Kavenagh and Stewardson, crafts a charming love story that has you hold your breath, only exhaling once the film fades to black. It’s a love story that is so hopeful and one that I wish I had been able to have when I was growing up. It might fall in cliches and yet, never did that become a problem. Those cliches worked in more ways than one and for that, I am grateful.

My First Summer navigates the themes it presents so well, finding the perfect balance between hurt and hope. A balance that even by the end is so perfect that the film’s hopeful message is never lost as the trauma overtakes everything. It’s a film that just feels so real to those feelings you have growing up, to that first everything you have with someone, that grand love story that you just never forget. It’s a film that deserves attention and hopefully, becomes a queer classic