The Love Letter to Teenage Girls All Over the World in "The Summer I Turned Pretty"

 The Love Letter to Teenage Girls All Over the World in "The Summer I Turned Pretty"

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I entered The Summer I Turned Pretty with the assumption that I already knew how it would end. Despite not having read any of Jenny Han's books, I was able to tell from the description what to expect from the summer teen romantic comedy on Prime Video: a youthful, attractive cast, stunning landscape, and strong beachy vibes that would make me long for the salty wind of the ocean.

I ought not to have been so arrogant. Even if the final destination may be obvious, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the voyage. The secret to this success shouldn't be noteworthy, but it's surprisingly difficult to find in teen shows: the creators are aware of their target audience, which is made up primarily of teenage girls. And they employ all available means, like as writing, casting, and musical selection, to get their message across.

The Summer I Turned Pretty, or TSITP is evidence that showrunners don't have to create something entirely new to draw viewers. Teenage girls are among the pickiest viewers—and with good reason—and they deserve shows that don't take their audience for granted. And I'm pleased to say that TSITP is among the best teen rom-coms available as a result of all their efforts.

It will be different this summer.

During her summer vacation in the made-up beach town of Cousins, 16-year-old Isabel "Belly" Conklin has several romantic connections, which are followed throughout the seven episodes of the season. Since she can remember, Belly (Lola Tung) has loved Conrad Fisher (Christopher Briney), but Conrad has always treated her like a younger sibling. Jeremiah, Conrad's younger brother (Gavin Casalegno), also adores Belly. You can create a typical love triangle teen drama by including parties in each episode, a lot of drinking, and lots of poor communication.

It's not that dramatic, though. Jenny Han, the author of TSITP and creator of the TV series, excels at displaying restraint when it comes to the end-of-the-world framing of relationships that is all too prevalent in teen programming. The show's primary focus is on love relationships, but when one relationship ends or starts, the characters just move on. The lesson that life goes on when relationships end is crucial, especially for a young audience, perhaps because there are so many relationships to cover in the brief series.

This program differs from its cliche-filled contemporaries in more ways than one. The belly is a self-aware protagonist who is unexpectedly realistic. Although she isn't always graceful, as evidenced by her extremely awkward relationship with Cam, her charm and optimism come off as sincere and appealing rather than annoying. Even though Belly makes several decisions that are actually amusing to scoff at during the season, Tung's portrayal of the title character instills a fascinating innocence in her moving performance that keeps me on her side.

Another significant distinction between TSITP and other teen shows is that the cast is as close to being age-appropriate as possible. I sincerely appreciate you not casting 30-year-olds as teenagers, TSITP casting directors. Tung, who is 19 years old, and the other young actors in the cast all appear to be teenagers. Even though it might seem insignificant, having characters who are teenagers or recently graduated from high school greatly enhances the show's realism.

The main character wasn't The Summer Belly.

Those who have read the books will surely be surprised, even though most of the changes are for the better.

Fans of the books, the first of which is exclusively recounted from Belly's perspective, may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the program covers more than simply Belly's romantic connections. It focuses on the strained parent-child relationships in both families, Steven's connection with his stylish girlfriend Shayla, and the series' real love story—Laurel and Susannah's decades-long friendship.

The bigotry Steven encounters while working at the cousin’s country club, the tension and wealth gap between the Fishers and Conklins, and Jere's fluid sexuality are just a few examples of the many issues the show briefly touches on but doesn't fully explore. All of these factors have a significant impact on the people and the events they encounter during the episode, but they aren't given enough time to be properly explored. This may be annoying to viewers who haven't read the novels.

Even if the second season returns to the same topics, Belly's voice-overs keep the audience focused on Belly's perspective. The voiceovers frequently disrupt the flow of a scene and hardly ever provide the spectator with additional information or more precise context.

To maintain the attention of whoever is the primary character of the episode's storyline, it would be fantastic if the show eliminated the voice-overs altogether or gave the mic to other characters in future seasons.

The show would be much richer and more nuanced to watch if it went even further and accepted these other narratives as equal in significance to Belly's romantic connections.

I played the TSITP soundtrack loudly that summer.

I don't know how much money was spent on TSITP music during the summer. All I know is that the money was wisely used. The show's important moments are supported by Olivia Rodrigo, Lizzo, Phoebe Bridgers, Ariana Grande, Tyler the Creator, Dua Lipa, and Billie Eilish. Not to mention the final episode's use of Taylor Swift's "The Way I Loved You (Taylor's Version)" as the best song placement ever. My Swiftie heart swooned, poor thing.

In addition to the song’s thematic significance—Brutal by Olivia Rodrigo was played during a fight scene, for instance—the music choice demonstrates that the show's creators were acutely aware of their young, female target audience. Many teenage females truly listen to these musicians and singers, as if they were taken directly from their phones and playlists. The music was chosen to add a deeper emotional tone, which improved numerous scenes. Yes, that's what I would listen to when anything like that occurred to me, I thought at various points.

Online discussion on the music was also very active, notably Lizzo's incredible four-part TikTok reaction series. Along with releasing the series' official playlist, Amazon Prime also granted the actors complete creative freedom to make character-specific playlists that contained both their own favorites and the songs they used to get into character. Particularly excellent is Tung's Belly's playlist.

Chris Briney's summer performance: standout

Conrad, played by Christopher Briney, is one of the standout performances. Conrad might easily have been a typically gloomy, good-turned-bad lad, but even in the first episode, it is clear that there is more to Conrad's character than meets the eye. Conrad is already positioned by the script to defy expectations, but Briney's acting adds a whole new level of intricacy and emotional depth. Conrad by Briney is a master class in vulnerability, which is difficult to find in teenage boys.

Briney's genius rests in his capacity to delicately depict all the various courses and roles Conrad wishes to take, including that of the older brother keeping his family together, a buddy to local author Cleveland Castillo, and a resolute adolescent who isn't sure how he feels about Belly. It's a fine line to tread, but Briney succeeds in giving just enough information to keep the audience interested and wondering about Conrad's less somber actions. Knowing what Conrad is going through when you repeat the episode, Briney's portrayal only gets better.

The highlight of Briney's performance occurs in episode 6. You finally see how all the pieces of Conrad fit together after witnessing Briney so masterfully bury and deflect Conrad's feelings over the entire series. Briney handles this tragic moment with restrained grief that is difficult to watch and impossible to turn away from. This is a lovely, vulnerable scene in which Briney excels.

The summer of love story movie adaptations

In recent years, there has been a spate of romantic comebacks, including Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride, Sally Thorne's The Hating Game, Jenny Han's debut novel-to-screen adaptation, To All the Boys I Loved Before, and The Kissing Booth, based on the Wattpad book of the same name. They are all now surpassed by TSITP.

To be fair, several of these adaptations target an audience that is a little older than their source material. But so many of these programs and motion pictures are targeted toward young women, and so frequently the producers of these programs have no idea who these women are, what they desire, or how to best portray them.

Teenage girls are frequently made to feel inferior or derided for their interests as if they are merely the newest passing trend and not worth the time or effort it would take to properly comprehend them. For TSITP, it would be simple to rely on preconceptions, throw in a few cultural allusions, and call it a day. Since none of these traits is characteristic of the usual TV teen girl, it is more difficult to develop a female protagonist who makes dubious choices, struggles in her friendships, and doesn't depend entirely on her current love partner. However, Belly can use all of them. And because she looks real, they greatly increase the interest in both the character and the series.

The Summer I Turned Pretty demonstrates that the writers appreciate young girls as entire people with complex thoughts, relationships, and objectives in an oversaturated field. The series is distinguished by this in the greatest way possible. I'm looking forward to being shocked once more in season 2 because season 1 laid a solid foundation and there are still so many things to cover.

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