A sweetly insightful look at romance among African-American college students, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” marks a promising debut for 23-year-old writer-director John Fisher, a recent Howard U. grad. Although lightweight and small-scaled, the Georgia-shot comedy’s assured mounting and appealing cast give it solid niche market potential, especially in areas where arthouse and ethnic auds converge. Ironically, one possible commercial minus is also an artistic plus: Fisher puts less emphasis on getting easy laughs than on exploring ’90s dating dilemmas with perceptiveness and emotional accuracy.
Borrowing from “Annie Hall” and “She’s Gotta Have It,” pic opens with its squabbling sweethearts, Perry (RonReaco Lee) and Stephanie (Deanna Davis), addressing the camera to recall their relationship’s beginning. While he remembers her wearing a beautiful black dress, she remembers being obliged to watch him play basketball, badly, for hours. What the collegians agree on is that they fought constantly during their two years together, which has prompted the decision to separate over the summer before their senior year.
Though its initial section nicely balances both lovers’ viewpoints, tale continues by focusing on Perry’s outlook, which grows increasingly perplexed as he realizes he needs his ex more than she needs him. This was his first love, but not hers, and thus she has a degree of experience that points her toward new relationships, while he is left forlorn and adrift, hoping that she will come back.
Perry has two pals, Joseph (E. Roger Mitchell) and D’Angelo (Mike Ngaujah), who offer plenty of comic counsel on his predicament, and he stumbles forward by dating Tammy (Jade Janise Dixon), who’s frank about her need for companionship while her boyfriend’s away in the Army. The situation’s humor, while well conveyed, is offset by the bittersweet sense of love ebbing as life changes.
In Fisher’s sharp, observant scripting, there’s little time for raunchiness, broad comedy or milking of racial topics. The characters are all comfortably middle-class blacks, which makes them like college students everywhere. Nor is the film’s setting ever specified; it could be the South or California.
All this means that the focus stays squarely on the central romantic conundrum, and in that, pic offers something quietly special. While Perry and his pals joke about women wanting men to be sensitive, Perry himself actually is sensitive in the most commendable way. He’s open enough to love to be hurt and disoriented by its loss: This is indeed a new kind of black screen protag, and a welcome one.
Lee’s expert, engaging work as Perry is a major asset, and he’s well supported by Davis and other cast members. Pic also boasts a bright, colorful look, with topnotch lensing by Charles Mills.