The Summer I Turned Pretty, based on Jenny Han’s eponymous YA book, is so predictable that you want to bite your arm in frustration. That it is badly written and acted even worse is adding insult to injury. However, there is something to say in favour of a banal show stuffed with beautiful-looking people, sun, sand, the sea, a bubblegum soundtrack and a pretty amazing beach house. All of that translates to a bingeable, if shallow show.
Belly (Lola Tung) has been coming every summer to the seaside at Cousins Beach. She stays with her brother, Steven (Sean Kaufman) and her mum, Laurel (Jackie Chung) at Laurel’s best friend from forever Susannah’s (Rachel Blanchard) beautiful, mansion-style beach house. Susannah’s sons, Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) are part of the vacation and an intrinsic part of Belly’s life.
The Summer I Turned Pretty
This summer, as Belly turns 16, is different. Conrad is sulky, Steven worrying about admissions, there is also a debutante ball, Susannah seems tired and smoking a whole lot of pot, while Laurel has a writer’s block. The husbands are not part of the holiday, only joining on the Fourth of July weekend.
This year, Laurel’s ex-husband, John (Colin Ferguson) brings his girlfriend, while Susannah’s husband, Adam (Tom Everett Scott) though banned from attending by Susannah, drops by anyway. There are other characters such as a fellow author Castillo (Alfredo Narciso) who Laurel might have feelings for, Cam (David Iacono), the sweet boy who loved Belly from their time together as Latin nerds and the wealthy influencer, Shayla (Minnie Mills), who is interested in Steven.
Nicole (Summer Madison) is Conrad’s squeeze while Taylor, (Rain Spencer) Belly’s best friend, pops up at opportune moments to either hook up with Steven or tell Belly how much she has changed. There is beach volleyball, the debutante ball with dress shopping and make up, a terminal illness, tears and kisses by the sunset.
Bad acting and writing ensure we are not invested in any of the characters… which is a good thing if you just want to placidly look at the screen. The Summer I Turned Pretty makes that other Han adaptation, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, a classic. The characters there were believable and the Korean identity woven in organically. Adapting To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before into a film trilogy was also the right idea as there is not enough of book to stretch to seven episodes in The Summer ITurned Pretty. Incidentally Belly is the worst nickname and that too for a name as beautiful as Isabel! Hope Cam turns into a hunk saving whales…
If The Summer I Turned Pretty makes you sick with all the saccharine, you could flip to The Boys and imagine Billy Butcher telling Conrad, “How long are you going to be sulking like some poncy eyeline wearing emo…”
The Summer I Turned Pretty is presently streaming on Amazon Prime Video