Skip to content

Summer of Solitude in Film

Though Summer is a time of excitement, sun, and sticky days that pass by in a haze, Molly Grogan considers the films that represent the slower and sadder summer days.

By Molly Grogan, Third Year, English

Summer is a time of excitement, of sun, of enjoying the long and sticky days that pass by in a haze, as we anticipate the new academic year with equal excitement and dread. Everyone seems to be either perpetually on holiday, festival hopping, or completely loved up. All well-deserved fun.

However, many of us – myself included – equally enjoy indulging in the quote-unquote ‘sad girl summer’ (though the term is encouraged to reach across the gender spectrum). This might involve working a 9 to 5, getting annoyed at tourists who have once again invaded your home town, journaling and weeping about the disappointing beginning of your twenties or our uncertain future, and, of course, lying, limp and self-pitying in bed, watching the films that articulate many such summer blues.

Here, we’ve rounded up the flicks that speak to those less instagrammable moments, the feelings of stuckness, of FOMO, of pining, and which have offered us some companionship against it all.

Natalie Portman in Closer (2004) // Courtesy of IMDB

Fish Tank (2009)

Dir. Andrea Arnold

Set in a very evocative mid-2000s British council estate, we follow the estranged and rebellious Mia (Katie Jarvis) as she sets out to pursue a career in dance with the encouragement of her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender). Fish Tank’s social realism makes it intimate and suffocating, situating the viewer at once beside and within Mia, experiencing all of the anger, frustration, and complexities of emotion (particularly towards Connor) that she does. Its particular ‘Britishness’, though, feels strangely comforting and does well to depict a hot and turbulent summer that many of us have likely experienced at one point.

Fish Tank (2009) // Courtesy of IMDB

Eighth Grade (2018)

Dir. Bo Burnham

Comedian Bo Burnham’s directing debut is a tender, truthful, and scarily accurate depiction of the purgatory that is our ‘tween’ years. In Eighth Grade (which, for us, would be year 9), thirteen-year-old Kayla (played by the brilliant Elsie Fisher) navigates poor self-esteem and the politics of popularity. Her character seems so spot on; you spend half the film wondering how Burnham did his research. The cringey trends, the failed attempts at a YouTube career; it hits far too close to home for generation internet. But there’s something quite touching about watching, hands over eyes, as Kayla makes the same mistakes you did, reminding you that the awkwardness of youth is pretty universal and that everything, as big and life-imploding as it seems in the moment, will probably be okay.

Eighth Grade (2018) // Courtesy of IMDB

Frances Ha (2012)

Dir. Noah Baumbach

Ah, the struggling artist, the creative unable to create - a tale as old as time. Greta Gerwig (Little Women (2019)) is Frances, a dancer and drifter, floating through the effervescent streets of New York with Sophie, her more successful best friend, in glorious black and white. Charming and funny, Baumbach’s film also touches on the isolation of city life and the hollow underbelly of bohemian New York. It’s all about growing up (more) in your late twenties, realising dreams don’t always come true, and that sometimes it’s natural to grow apart from old friends. But, transported to New York for an hour and a half, it’s medicine for those small-town summer blues.

Frances Ha (2012) // Courtesy of IMDB

The Worst Person in the World (2021)

Dir. Joachim Trier

Trier’s newest release is exciting and modern and speaks to the lovesick and the love stuck. Finding herself trapped in a once exhilarating relationship, Julie (Renate Reinsve) meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), and they embark on a night of ‘non-adulterous’ adultery, deciding to break society’s subscriptive rules of monogamy. Following her heart, she breaks free from her old relationship but soon stumbles into the same melancholy in the new one, but she is still, admirably, unafraid to make the wrong decision. Julie’s fearlessness (though often at the cost of others) is inspiring and comforting to watch and gives a fresh take on the ‘relationship’ genre, exploring what happens after the heart gets what it wants.

The Worst Person in the World (2021) // Courtesy of IMDB

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

If you want a film that will make you feel both sad and fuzzy inside at the same time, then Kiki is the film for you. A young witch moves to a new town with her talking black cat Jiji in the hopes of discovering what to use her powers for but soon stumbles into, I suppose, a kind of witch’s block. Uninspired and dejected, Kiki looks instead for companionship and realises that all she really needed were friends to support her. Filled with breath-taking (animated, obviously), sweeping landscapes and the most uplifting soundtrack ever heard by human ears – written by Ghibli veteran Joe Hisaishi – this flick is perfect viewing for when it’s sunny outside but you’re not feeling quite so bright. It’s bound to cheer you up, even just a little.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) // Courtesy of IMDB

Amelie (2001)

Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Amelie Poulain lives in a world of her own (sound a little familiar?), creating fantastical backstories for the characters that populate her community in Montmartre. When she discovers a box of treasured possessions in the walls of her apartment, she decides to track down its original owner, hoping that it brings him some closure. And so begins her pursuit of spreading happiness, helping others to find their own sense of belonging and companionship, which leads her to stumble upon love herself. This film is a kaleidoscopic fever dream, building a bewitching world to get lost in on a dull summer's day, perfect if escapism (bedroom/long walk/field or garden-based) has been your favourite past-time this summer.

Amelie (2001) // Courtesy of IMDB

Arguably, the best medicine is the movies, and hopefully, these picks can offer some refuge from those long, empty summer days, where time seems to stand still, but your thoughts refuse to.

Featured Image: IMDB

What is your favourite 'sad girl summer' film?