In “Summering,” a meditative coming-of-age film by James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), four 11-year-old girls living in suburban Utah are suddenly confronted with the realities of the adult world in the last days of summer vacation before they begin middle school.
Daisy (Lia Barnett), Dina (Madalen Mills), Mari (Eden Grace Redfield), and Lola (Sanai Victoria) are a pack of inseparable best friends who rove around the neighborhood and the nearby woods. Though not entirely innocent — one of the girls is a “Law & Order” enthusiast and another knows too well how to work her cop mother’s handgun — the friends are still very much naïve children who find refuge in the realm of imagination.
Their idealism begins to crack, however, when they stumble upon the corpse of an unidentified man and, like amateur detectives, attempt to uncover his origins — first heading to a local dive bar, then breaking into their elementary school to use the internet away from the eyes of their snooping mothers, and ultimately locating the dead man’s impoverished home.
Like the young adult novel “Bridge to Terabithia” — the girls find the body in Terabithia, the name of their secret hideaway under a bridge — “Summering” weaves fantasy into the sting of death and abandonment. It’s a common, beautified method of expressing the knotty ways in which children process trauma, with Ponsoldt incorporating spooky moments (a séance, recurring glimpses of the dead man as a ghost) into his tale of sun soaked sleuthing.
Though admirable in its attempt to capture that hazy, searching quality of the purgatory between childhood and adolescence, “Summering” is also, as a result, sleepy and adrift. A generic parallel drama involving the girls’ mothers, panicked when they lose contact with their kids, waters down a narrative that already splits its attention between four characters. And by the end, the poignant kicker — the dream of being friends forever now haunted by a newfound awareness of its unlikelihood — feels like an afterthought instead of the whole point.
Rated PG-13 for morbid moments of suspense, gun use, suicide. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. In theaters.