Summer and Smoke is about an old school romance that doesn’t go so well this time. See, you’d usually expect the classic trope of the innocent girl who falls for the bad boy to play out in a certain way. She gets him to be a little less wild and he gets her to live it up a little and it’s happily ever after. This takes a more serious look at how this would typically play out and while it does end up being a lot more realistic, it’s definitely not what I would call a feel good movie. It drags on a lot and since none of the characters are particularly likable that puts you in a rough spot right out of the gate.
The movie introduces us to Alma as a child who didn’t get along great with the other kids. She was always off on her own but she did like John who was fairly popular. John was definitely a tough kid already by that point and didn’t have time for the kind of serious romance that she was looking for. Many years have passed by and things haven’t changed. John lives a very problematic lifestyle and is always leaving town on adventures while Alma has been the dutiful daughter who takes care of her sick mother and keeps living on the straight and narrow. With John back in town Alma had been hoping they could finally get together but that isn’t working. Will she have to descend to his level for them to get together or is there a better way?
Of course the answer to this should clearly be that if you have to lower your level to be with someone then that’s not worth it. A true relationship can only blossom when you are being yourself and are with someone where you are comfortable doing that. If you feel like you need to change yourself then that’s already a massive red flag. Additionally John isn’t someone who could possibly be trusted to have a stable relationship with. Throughout the film he is involved in lots of different affairs and it is clear that he likes to play the field. He always goes for the most attractive girl in the group and then moves on when someone even more beautiful arrives. It’s a very clear pattern even if Alma tries to deny this.
Now you absolutely can feel bad for Alma. She has had a rough go of it as her mother has lost a significant portion of her mind so she acts rather crazy on a day to day basis and her father can be quite strict. So she has grown up in a way where she had to be very mature from a young age which didn’t help her when it came to mingling with the rest of town. Even her high education ends up getting in the way a bit as others think she is looking down on them. Ultimately it can be hard to make friends but if she was less obsessed with John then perhaps she could have found someone. She does have a few friends including one guy who likes her but she only really has eyes for John in the end.
Ultimately by the time she is ready to make a move like that it is just too late and it’s still probably for the best. The way her character ends in the film is not very satisfying though. I would instead argue that the ending is pretty bad since she is basically settling for someone else as she is desperate to have any man and she’s not thinking straight. An affair born out of desperation just isn’t going to end up working out. Ironically John probably has a more stable future ahead of him. Hey it’s great that it worked out but it can also be a bit annoying to see considering how much trouble he had caused beforehand. It’s just hard to forget that.
He’s also what brings the film down quite a lot here. See this is a very dramatic romance film. It’s not part comedy so you are going to have a lot of serious plots here like John’s decisions causing his father to get shot and a lot of feelings are hurt all the time. So by the time he has his offscreen redemption after a long timeskip you’re just tired of this guy already. You just don’t even want to see him because you know just seeing the guy is going to get you really annoyed. That’s just the kind of character he is. It’s like watching someone destroy a town and then show up a few years later to build a house. It’s great that he got his life back together but you just would rather he do it somewhere else.
The only really solid character in the whole film has to be the young lady who shows up at the end to deliver one last blow to Alma. Technically this girl doesn’t know any of the backstory so at no point does she have any malicious intentions. It does feel like there is a bit of an age gap there but ultimately she seems like the only character to be very nice with no ulterior motives so it’s easy to root for her. Everyone else can just be annoying.
I feel like the movie didn’t even need the plot about Alma’s mother. All it served to do was make the film a little more dreary and downcast with how Alma couldn’t even rest at home. The film already had enough of that so this was just throwing things over the edge. There’s also not a whole lot of fun to be had in the movie. You will barely find any real happy moments at all. I don’t count the crazy drunk parties John would have because that’s not the kind of happy moment I’m thinking about. You always see the negative connotations there. I’m talking about an actual lighthearted upbeat moment and those are rare. The closest may be when Alma and John go to the carnival and even then you know something bad is about to happen.
Overall, This is definitely a film that I highly recommend skipping. For starters it is a very long film. It drags on and on and on as the relationships keep going back and forth. The cast is weak and the story is annoying at best. The romances here are all awful so you’re not rooting for anyone to get together and the ending is really the big arrow to the heart. It ends things off on such a sour note and whether the relationship works or not, it feels like a pure desperation rebound which is never what you want to see here. There’s just nothing wholesome about that. Maybe the film should have taken place in the winter instead so as to work as a metaphor about how hard all of their hearts became by the end.