It's a little hard to tell if My Summer as a Goth is mocking or attempting to celebrate goth culture, but one thing's for sure: The newest from director Tara Johnson-Medinger reads more like a rejected spec script for an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation.
We follow young Joey Javitts (American Vandal's Natalie Shershow) in the wake of her father's death. Joey's mom is a famous novelist hitting the road for a summer book tour, thus forcing our heroine to spend the summer with her kooky grandparents in … whatever town it is they live in. Joey's bummed, naturally, right up until she meets Victor (Jack Levis, who we hopefully never see in anything ever again), a goth written by people whose understanding of goths is that they like black clothes, The Cure and maybe The Matrix. End of list.
Victor is an absurd caricature, all over-long trench coats, combat boots and corpse paint. In other words, he's reductive, and maybe even offensive to people who found common company, comfort and a way of life in the goth world. It could have been funny if they'd meant to lampoon the culture, but My Summer as a Goth aims for dramedy, missing the mark on both counts.
Joey falls for Victor and goes totally goth herself with the help of Victor's also-goth pals Pen (Jenny White) and Cob (Carter Allen), whom we're told have chosen their names because it's the terminology for female and male swans, respectively. They're also completely fucking ridiculous, and we wish that was the worst of it. But, sadly, there's still the "punk with a knife," Antonio, who really seems to hate goths, but promises Joey that he's not such a bad guy. His punk-dom is represented with a leather jacket. Seriously.
But Joey begins to lose herself in the de rigueur trappings of goth, and she just wants to ignore the telltale signs of Victor's emotional abuse even if her super-cool grandparents take her to drag queen bingo for some reason and warn her that he's bad news. And it goes downhill steadily.
Joey, for example, has an established best friend, but ignores her, calling instead for her newfound coven when she "really could use a friend." Hey Joey—YOU JUST MET THEM, LIKE, A WEEK AGO! Further, we're told her dad died, but it never really enters into the equation save a feverish dream sequence wherein we learn the fleeting nature of young love from … the dad's ghost, maybe? Jesus. Still, Shershaw manages a serviceable and sometimes relatable performance, even if Levis' Victor so painfully vacillates between wooden and over-the-top in his mannerisms that we cringe anytime he says or does anything. It's not entirely his fault, though—the script is crammed with plenty of "I'm good. How are you doing?"-caliber lines for the cast to fumble with.
Elsewhere, incidental goths in the background of cemetery silent discos and the third-act love showdown at Club Medusa—which we mention because it's seriously so funny—trend toward the myopic as well.
And so we wonder if there was some kind of vetting process for the actors or the script, because the best we can say for My Summer as a Goth is that it might be fun to make fun of with your pals. The worst we can say, however, is that it could feel hurtful to people who embraced the goth lifestyle wholeheartedly. This reductive glance could have worked had it stuck to a good old-fashioned lampooning, but we're afraid they're going for serious, and it winds up seriously bad.
+Shershaw has talent; we laughed, but not the way they probably wanted
-Terrible dialogue; awful performances; pointless scenes; confusing
My Summer as a Goth
Directed by Tara Johnson-Medinger
With Shershaw and Levis
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 98 min.