The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>A DOZEN SUMMERS</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - A DOZEN SUMMERS

Two 12 year old girls hijack the narrative of a movie.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Kenton Hall

Starring: Scarlet Hall, Hero Hall, Kenton Hall, Sarah Warren, Colin Baker, Ewen MacIntosh

"With Kenton Hall’s parade of in-refs and parodies pitched beyond the pre-pubescent, at times A Dozen Summers skirts dangerously close to being a feature length dad joke."

A gentle Dreamworks-esque score chimes and crescendos over dawn-lit shots of middle England, the camera cutting across morning scenes of rooftops, leafy suburbs, and a couple of kids at a breakfast table, while a whimsical voiceover (provided by the great Colin Baker) prepares us for typical ‘stories of boys and girls who have learned to do the impossible and soar to heights they have never imagined’. So far, so archetypal, with the scene set for a conventional summer holidays adventure. However, before the voiceover can complete his introduction to ‘an ordinary tale of ordinary people’, he is boldly interrupted by two 12 year old girls, who forthrightly admonish the narrator/camera for lurking about a school yard and ‘filming kids’. The brash tweens are Maisie and Daisy (identical twins Scarlet and Hero Hall, stars of the show), and they proceed to hijack the very film itself, commandeering the narrative and designing to tell a story that isn’t ‘old and boring and rubbish’: their story. And so begins the playful, meta fun of writer/director/co-star and actual-father-of-actual-stars, Kenton Hall’s A Dozen Summers.
Utilising the full language of narrative cinema - flash forwards, backs, POV shots, alternate takes, multiple voice overs - in order to realise its rambunctious, spirited style, A Dozen Summers has more in common with the skit heavy narratives of something like The Simpsons (or, as others have pointed out, the domestic reflexivity of Spaced) than typical kiddy fare. The film engages the audience with asides, parodies and sketches that range from such spoofs as a crime style interrogation scene, which is authentically composed of chiaroscuro lighting and a bespectacled bad cop bringing out a soft toy to torture (‘You leave Hattie alone, she’s nothing to do with this’), to a monochrome parody of The Seventh Seal’s chess game. There is a great deal of ingenuity and energy on show here, and, in this sense, A Dozen Summers is enjoyable and entertaining. However, an issue is that, beneath the film’s fun and games, there are no narrative rules, and, consequently, the film suffers from a lack of definitive plot development, having no through line with which A Dozen Summers can hang its shiny sketches and send ups upon.
Towards the end of the film, the divorce of the girls’ parents is broached, with the twins awkwardly meeting their mother’s new partner, and depicting their vain attempts to set up their dear old dad (Hall) with their English teacher, but these potentially interesting calls to action are skated over with the same manic vigour as the rest of the film’s plot points. A crucial element of children’s cinema is the protagonist taking on agency, overcoming challenge, and, often, even effecting change, but in A Dozen Summers, there is little for the twins to surmount, (the parent’s divorce is chummy and completely amicable), and no space for growth or new understandings. There is a single moment of darkness, involving the implied cruelty of the school bully’s unpleasant father, but any prospects for exploring this (the unspoken idea that not all adults are good and decent) is glossed over in the rush for the next gag. I couldn’t help feeling that if the film had applied its undeniable creativity and bravura technical imagination to an actual story, rather than a fun day-in-the-life, then it would have been even more successful.
As an adult who understands what is being parodied, I found the knowing, shaggy dog style of the film inventive and fresh, but kids who prefer clear structure and storytelling may differ. With references to Reservoir Dogs and jokes about a ‘progressive environment’ in school which would allow transgender children, one does wonder, who will appreciate A Dozen Summers’ jokes? It’s not that the riffs are inappropriate, just that it's unlikely most 12 year olds will pick up on them, and, therefore, such skits as the Seventh Seal lampoon serve to remind us that A Dozen Summers is a child’s story told by an adult, fanciful with the wishful rose tinted innocence that many parents confer upon childhood. Mainly fun, the film makes good on its initial assurance to tell a story that isn’t ‘old and boring and rubbish’,  but ultimately with Kenton Hall’s parade of in-refs and parodies pitched beyond the pre-pubescent, at times A Dozen Summers skirts dangerously close to being a feature length dad joke.