Favorite Summer Films for a Stormy Afternoon
In theory, we all know that summer should be spent outside. However, there are some afternoons when you’ve planned a perfectly sweet picnic and a plague of bugs descend, or it’s so humid that you can’t even bear to lift the lemonade pitcher, or a flash thunderstorm sends you and your friends rushing inside to protect already frizzled hairdos. Sometimes these events take place all at once. Such occasions are excellent excuses to retreat inside and sprawl out for a summer screening or two. Here are a few of my favorite summer films to keep the season feeling going, even when stuck indoors.
If you can’t make it to the Riviera this summer, you can bask in the Technicolor feast of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Cary Grant stars as a reformed jewel thief enlisted to solve a string of cat burglaries that have struck the most exclusive hotels on the Côte d’Azur. While trying to evade the acquaintances of his criminal past, he meets Grace Kelly, a newly minted oil debutante with a passion for lawlessness. With a thriller plot, sparkling conversation, and a cast outfitted by legendary designer Edith Head, it’s a perfect start to the season. Like most of Hitchcock’s work, this film speaks for itself. Fetch your prettiest necklace, pour a Kir Royale, and for goodness’ sake, buckle your seatbelt!
No summer is complete for me without a viewing of Jaws, always on the 3rd of July. Before Steven Spielberg became Steven Spielberg, this movie was the first blockbuster to ever pull summer theatergoers off the beaches and make them never want to go back. Absolute aquatic terror may not be everyone’s chum, but please, tend the water and give it a try. Living through my parents’ nostalgia, watching the reels of 1970s Martha’s Vineyard are like catching glimpses of a childhood that wasn’t mine. If the gripping story and compelling characters aren’t enough to keep you occupied, the authentic islander extras’ fashions will make you want to break out the madras and silk headbands. Complete the look with a denim jacket and a Whale’s Tale Pale Ale, and remember to recycle.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Take it from Lana, sometimes the Summertime Sadness hits hard. When I first watched Call Me By Your Namein the dead of winter, I could feel the Mediterranean sun on my face and smell the apricots long after credits rolled. Or is that just how I feel when looking at Armie Hammer? Either way, this film submerses the viewer in its scenic landscape and arrests us with the characters’ experiences of a comfortable home and excruciating heartbreak. The poignant dialogue adapted from André Aciman’s novel (the audiobook is narrated by Armie Hammer, by the way) offers plentiful mediation for days when it’s too hot to play volleyball and tanning on a fountain is the only option. It can be watched at any time during the season, although I recommend midsummer. When you’re drying your eyes and realizing you’ll never look at stone fruit the same way again, at the very least there are still sunny days ahead.
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Grab your undies out of the ice box, crunch some potato chips, and pop a bottle of champagne!
Billy Wilder’s tongue-in-cheek comedy about a married businessman left home alone in a New York City heatwave, with the stunning Marilyn Monroe as an upstairs neighbor, was considered absolutely scandalous at the time of its release. Fighting the urge to succumb to his fevered passions for The Girl, the viewer is meant to laugh at Tom Ewell for believing he could ever have a chance with her in the first place. Originally a Broadway production, the plentiful slapstick and racy humor is entirely adaptable to contemporary tastes without becoming too vulgar. Every time your skirt is blown up by an errant wind this summer, just imagine that Marilyn is smiling down upon you. Be blessed.
Advisory and Spoiler: The short introductory scene does contain white actors dressed as Lenape, the original inhabitants of Manhattan Island. Navigating movies before 2008 (looking at you, Tropic Thunder) is fraught with such breaches of decency. Before this turns you off entirely, please know that these characters are mirrored by the same actors in contemporary costume seconds later. The joke is not at the Lenapes’ expense, more so at that of men behaving badly throughout history. Although nowhere near an excuse, the representation is comparatively short-lived and far more respectful than that of other infractions such as Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yuniyoshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960).
Spirited Away (2001)
While still a young student when manga and anime emerged into American pop culture, summer was the best time for me to read the titles that had been released that year, and to stay up late watching Cowboy Bebop. (Seriously? All of the episodes are now available to stream on [adult swim]’s website? Kids today will never know how easy they have it!) Spirited Away was the introductory anime feature film for many American viewers, and personally this was My First Miyazaki. Its breathtaking artistry blew me away, and I also identified too closely with its main character Chihiro, a whiny only child forced to save her cursed parents. Luckily, the latter half was not as relevant. The film is a lesson in self-sufficiency and inependence. Chihiro becomes stronger with each obstacle she overcomes in a strange land, inspiring viewers to adapt and grow beyond difficult situations. The overall message is to be brave in the face of adversity, and never shy away from adventure. What better summer mindset to have at any age?
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Back to the Mediterranean to close out the season… for good, in some cases. The past few years, I’ve been reading each of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series, one book and one summer at a time. Though Highsmith has a marked influence on my writing and I’ve enjoyed each of her novels so far, none have quite matched my stunned, eight-year-old reaction after a pivotal first viewing of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Much of her work can reductively be described as pretty people in pretty places doing absolutely horrible things to each other, and this film hits the theme with more precision than a paddle to the temple. Made back when Matt Damon was a still an actor, his performance as Tom Ripley is the definition of “cringe.” Sending rippling tension throughout the star-studded cast, combined with luxuriant outfits and locations, Ripley’s gripping storyline engulfs the viewer and refuses to let go. Gone is the playful lightness ofTo Catch a Thief. Summer can’t last forever.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Bidding farewell to summer on a high note, Wes Anderson can always be counted on to cut the bitter with something sweet. Much has been said about this wonderful film, and because Boston is experiencing a brief period of gorgeous weather, I’ll keep this recommendation short. This is one of the few films that has ever brought me right back to early adolescence, running around the woods with my Girl Scout troop, creating our own little worlds that seemed to know no beginning and no end. If you somehow haven’t seen Moonrise Kingdom yet, wait a couple of months until the air cools down. The film pairs well with a chunky cardigan, a camp blanket, and an enamel mug of hot chocolate.
*All poster images provided by Posteritati.
Zoë G. Burnett is a writer, menswear stylist, and film enthusiast based in Boston, Massachusetts. A born and raised New England Yankee, she feels equally at home in the 7th arrondissement. She is currently editing her first novel. You can read her personal blog here.