“When you’re with me, you can be so gentle… But when you’re with them, you’re completely different!”
Last Summer features fine, natural performances by all four of the teenage leads: Hershey (impossibly young) is perfectly cast as a sexy, intelligent, potentially disturbed young woman who is 100% confident in the sway she holds over her horny adolescent male friends; Thomas and Davison — one sensitive, the other brash and cocky — are well balanced against each other, and are entirely believable as buddies; and Burns — whose performance garnered her an Academy Award for best supporting actress, yet whose film career never really took off after this — is both brave and vulnerable in a complex role.
At first, Last Summer appears primarily concerned with the bantering dynamics between Hershey, Thomas, and Davison; one fully expects the souring of their sex-tinged love triangle (who will “win” Hershey’s affections?) to dominate the script, but it doesn’t — instead, a new character (Burns) conveniently emerges on the scene, providing a catalyst for change. Eleanor’s screenplay does an excellent job depicting both the normal anxieties of adolescence — a preoccupation with sexuality; a burning desire to fit in; a need to fill long summer hours with fun and excitement, including experimentation with drugs — and signs that this particular coming-of-age tale possesses more than a hint of pathology.
An opening subplot about a wounded seagull which Hershey and her friends nurse back to health parallels the second half of the film, in which Burns is the “fragile” outsider whose well-being rests on the graces of her fickle new friends. Other hints of dysfunctional power dynamics are given along the way as well, including the trio’s measured reaction to Burns’ story about her mother’s accidental death by drowning, and the way in which they treat a kind Puerto Rican (nicely played by Ernesto Gonzalez) who Hershey has located through a computer dating service. The film’s infamously shocking ending (don’t read too many comments on IMDb, or you’ll immediately encounter spoilers) takes a while to absorb, and — particularly in its R-rated edited version (the film originally received an X rating) — isn’t entirely clear. Nonetheless, it somehow serves as a fitting capstone to this undeniably disturbing and memorable tale, which is difficult to watch but remains a powerful viewing experience.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: