Big movies have staged a post-pandemic comeback. Sort of. COVID hasn’t exactly gone away, and audiences most likely to show up for studio releases have skewed younger and less inclined to fret about their own mortality. The result is a summer with a scattering of massive releases (among them Marvel and Minions movies, a new Jurassic World, and Tom Cruise’s long-delayed Top Gun sequel) but hardly a packed calendar — as studios try to figure out what’s next. The good news is that this leaves more space for the many smaller releases fighting for screens and attention. Here’s a thematically organized guide to some of the indie and indie-ish films coming out this season — from horror flicks to kid-friendly fare.
If you’re looking for something for the youngs, this summer has plenty of fodder about 20- and 30-somethings floundering in the world. Despite its gay rom-com billing, Fire Island (on Hulu June 3) is as much about the relationship between two friends (played by Joel Kim Booster, who wrote the film’s script, and Bowen Yang) struggling to fit into a community that reflexively treats them as invisible. The protagonist of Nana Mensah’s Queen of Glory (in theaters July 15), played by Mensah herself, is a Columbia doctoral student who’s all set to blow up her life and leave New York to join her married lover when her mother dies, sending her back up to the Bronx and the Ghanaian community where she grew up. The aspiring graphic novelist in Playlist (in theaters May 27) bounces between romantic and professional disillusionment after ending an unwanted pregnancy and getting a job adjacent enough to what she wants to do that she doesn’t run screaming when her boss informs her, “I have to warn you: I’m a real asshole.” Finally, an out-of-step homebody (Elizabeth Lail) in Katie Aselton’s Mack & Rita (in theaters August 12) is so eager to skip straight to no-fucks-to-give senior-citizen status that she pulls a reverse 13 Going on 30 with the help of a magical sound-bath pod — emerging as Diane Keaton.
Love and sex aren’t exclusively domains of the youthful and limber, and just because a movie is about a relationship doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be a happy one. Claire Denis’s Both Sides of the Blade (in theaters July 8) pits Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon against each other in a series of bruisingly realistic fights after a former lover and business partner (Grégoire Colin) resurfaces and gives the pair an excuse to smash their seemingly happy marriage to bits. Dale Dickey camps by the side of a stunning Colorado lake awaiting the arrival of an old lover (Wes Studi) in A Love Song (in theaters July 29), though the real romance she finds may be with herself. The same can be said for Emma Thompson, who plays a woman figuring out what’s next in the wake of her husband’s death in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (on Hulu June 17) with the help of the stunning sex worker (Daryl McCormack) she hires in hopes of experiencing her first orgasm. Meanwhile, Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook find joy with one another in Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava (in theaters July 29) despite their respective communities in Bradford, England, being initially suspicious about, baffled by, or outright hostile toward their unlikely romance.
No need to look solely to Disney for child-appropriate entertainment. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (in theaters June 24) continues the adventures of Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate’s adorable stop-motion mollusk in a mockumentary that examines the effects of internet fame on Marcel before sending him off on a journey to reconnect with his family. Ham Tran’s Maika, The Girl From Another Galaxy (in theaters June 3) is a Vietnamese film based on a Czechoslovakian TV show from the ’70s that became a popular import and centers on a bullied eight-year-old who befriends an alien visitor who takes the form of a child. Another throwback is Summering (in theaters August 12), from The Spectacular Now’s James Ponsoldt, which follows four girls on a Stand by Me-like adventure in the days before they start middle school.
The polar opposite of the grand blockbuster spectacle we tend to associate with summer is the cuddly British dramedy, and there are a few this season — ranging from portraits of legendarily bad golfers to Bridgerton-esque period pieces. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (in theaters July 15) is an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s book about a working-class widow (Lesley Manville) who becomes obsessed with the idea of buying a Dior dress and charms the pants off everyone she meets when she travels to Paris in an attempt to become the unlikely owner of one. The Phantom of the Open (in theaters June 3), directed by Submarine star Craig Roberts, stars Mark Rylance as Maurice Flitcroft, a shipyard crane operator who passed himself off as a professional golfer and achieved the worst score in the history of the British Open — becoming a folk hero in the process. And Mr. Malcolm’s List (in theaters July 1), with its diverse cast — Freida Pinto, Sope Dirisu, Zawe Ashton — and Regency hijinks involving flirtations under false pretenses, seems ready to satisfy the cravings of anyone longing for more of a certain Shondaland show.
Pandemics — COVID and Otherwise
If the prospect of plague-centered stories onscreen doesn’t make you run screaming, a few summer films deal with pandemics both real and otherworldly. Dashcam (in theaters and on VOD June 3) — from director Rob Savage, whose Zoom horror film Host was one of the few good lockdown movies from 2020 — follows an abrasive, reactionary livestreamer (Annie Hardy) who takes her show and conspiratorial mindset on the road to the U.K. to escape isolation and masking policies in Los Angeles only to encounter something truly frightening. In Greek Weird Wave effort Apples (in theaters June 24), an outbreak afflicting Athens causes amnesia, forcing a man (Aris Servetalis) who’s been wiped clean of his past to create a new life. Meanwhile, in the animated fantasy The Deer King (in theaters July 15) from Ghibli alums Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, a deadly disease ends up being a perverse force of liberation for a former soldier and the young girl in his care — both of whom are mysteriously immune to it.
Performance Artists As Rock Stars
The summer’s strangest thematic convergence involves new films from David Cronenberg and Peter Strickland set in realities in which performance artists are respected and desired celebrities. In Cronenberg’s return to body horror, Crimes of the Future (in theaters June 3), Viggo Mortensen lives in a sparsely populated industrial future in which humanity has been mutating, and he sprouts new internal organs that his partner and lover (Léa Seydoux) removes in front of a live audience using a nightmarish organic mechanism. In Strickland’s (dare we say better?) Flux Gourmet (in theaters and on demand June 24), it’s not surgical spectacle but “sonic catering” that’s all the rage as a digestively troubled journalist (Makis Papadimitriou) chronicles the residency of a culinary collective led by The Duke of Burgundy’s Fatma Mohamed as they fight among themselves while honing their craft of making soundscapes using food and kitchen equipment.
Podcasters As Protagonists
Ethically challenged armchair-detective podcasters aren’t just for TV anymore — they’re for black-comedy big-screen thrillers. B. J. Novak makes his film directorial debut in Vengeance (in theaters July 29), in which he plays a New York radio host who heads to West Texas for a funeral only to find himself stumbling onto potential material for a true-crime podcast. Meanwhile, in Poser (in theaters June 17), collecting material for a podcast serves as an excuse for an unsettling young woman (Sylvie Mix) to infiltrate the Columbus, Ohio, underground music scene — even if she never seems to get around to posting any episodes.
If the selections in the two categories above sound more horror-adjacent than straight scary, here are more traditional takes on the genre coming out. Lori Evans Taylor’s Best Rest (in theaters July 15) focuses on a pregnant woman (Melissa Barrera) who starts experiencing supernatural phenomena while constrained by mandatory bed rest in her new home. In Resurrection (in theaters and on VOD August 5), Rebecca Hall plays an unsettled mother whose highly disciplined world starts collapsing after the reemergence of a nightmarishly abusive ex (Tim Roth). In Watcher (in theaters June 3), It Follows’s Maika Monroe is an American expat who moves with her husband (Karl Glusman) to his native Romania only to become certain that a man across the street is stalking her. Special-effects master Phil Tippett’s decades-in-the-making stop-motion opus Mad God (streaming on Shudder June 16) is finally getting a release, enabling the world to take in Tippett’s apocalyptic vision of cycles of destroyers sent to obliterate ruined worlds. And in Bodies Bodies Bodies (in theaters August 5), which caused a stir at SXSW, an impossibly hip ensemble — Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott, Lee Pace, and Pete Davidson — gathers for a hurricane party that gives way to murder.
Of all the nonfiction offerings in theaters and streaming this summer, two in particular caught our eye. Accepted (in theaters July 1), from Dan Chen, looks at the pressures and inequities of the U.S. school system by way of four kids at T. M. Landry, an unusual school in Louisiana known for getting Black students (often from underprivileged backgrounds) into Ivy League colleges — until an exposé about the school’s practices is published in the New York Times. Beba (in theaters June 24) is an autobiographical work from Rebeca Huntt that focuses on her identity, her Dominican father and Venezuelan mother, and her childhood in New York City.
Where would any indie-centric guide be without some films about families dealing with stresses ranging from the annoying to the criminal? The latter is the case for the title character (Swamy Rotolo) in Jonas Carpignano’s A Chiara (in theaters May 27), a Calabrian teenager whose life is turned upside down when her father flees and is revealed to have organized-crime connections no one in the family will discuss. There’s a teenage girl, Julija (Gracija Filipovic), at the center of Murina (in theaters July 8) as well — one who thinks she sees a way out of her isolated existence under the thumb of her controlling father when a flirtatious and wealthy stranger expresses his intention to buy her family’s land. The introverted protagonist of Ayumu Watanabe’s Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko (in theaters June 3) isn’t a teen yet; at 11, she finds herself increasingly exasperated and embarrassed by the antics of her outgoing, unconventional mother, who has terrible taste in men. The parent-child relationship in I Love My Dad (in theaters August 5) is even more fraught — with writer-director-star James Morosini drawing from his own experiences to play a suicidal young man who gets catfished by his estranged father (Patton Oswalt). And in a belated U.S. release of the late Jean-Marc Vallée’s 2005 breakout film C.R.A.Z.Y. (in theaters June 3), a young gay man’s (Marc-André Grondin) sexuality effectively puts him at war with his father (Michel Côté) for years.