×

Film Review: ‘My Extraordinary Summer With Tess’

A family-friendly drama that explores the relationship between a boy preparing for the worst with a girl who helps him find his best.

Director:
Steven Wouterlood
With:
Sonny van Utteren, Josephine Arendsen, Julian Ras, Tjebbo Gerritsma, Suzan Boogaerdt, Johannes Kienast, Terence Schreurs, Jennifer Hoffman, Hans Dagelet, Guido Pollemans.  

1 hour 24 minutes

Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of human connection. Fronted by two charismatic tween performers, the title marks the feature debut of Dutch helmer Steven Wouterlood, who already holds an international Emmy Kids Award. The New York Intl. Children’s Film Festival will host the film’s international premiere at the end of February.

The story unfolds from the perspective of sensitive 10-year-old Sam (Sonny van Utteren, winning in his first film role) whose voiceover musings not only provide the narrative’s momentum and glue but also articulate the film’s ultimate lessons. Sam, his parents (Tjebbo Gerritsma, Suzan Boogaerdt) and older brother Jorre (Julian Ras) are on a week’s vacation on a Dutch island, but things are hardly idyllic. Jorre breaks his ankle; his mom is plagued by migraines; and Sam, a morbidly imaginative kid, embarks on a course of “aloneness training” to be prepared in case everyone he cares about dies before him. But things change when Sam is swept off his feet by the cyclonic personality of 11-year-old Tess (Josephine Arendsen), the daughter of staunchly feminist single mother Ida (Jennifer Hoffman), one of the island’s medics.

Initially abrupt, preoccupied and not particularly sympathetic, Tess seems like a miniature manic pixie dream girl. But as Sam (and viewers) learn the reasons behind her peculiar behavior, her obsession with Hugo (Johannes Kienast) and Elise (Terence Schreurs), the attractive young couple staying at her family’s guest house, becomes clear. And Sam becomes a (sometimes unwilling) accomplice in her quest to decide if Hugo is father material.

Meanwhile, another island dweller, the grizzled beachcomber Hille (Hans Dagelet), a widower, provides Sam with a valuable lesson about what’s most important in life, after saving him when his aloneness training goes awry.

Working from a screenplay by Laura van Dijk, director Wouterlood establishes and sustains a non-sentimental tone that focuses on the relationship between Sam and Tess — one unencumbered with sexual tension — as well as Sam’s concerns with mortality and his peculiar knowledge of the natural world (“Herrings talk to each other by farting,” he notes). It’s a tone that will find favor with audiences the age of the protagonists.

The island location, with its dusty sand dunes, waving reeds and surprisingly empty beaches, seems timeless. So, too, could the action if it weren’t for the brief use of a laptop computer and cell phone, and mention of Facebook. That the kids are out on their own for long stretches harks back to a simpler, less wary period, as does Sam’s family playing guessing games or going bowling. The slightly soft-edged lensing by Sal Kroonenberg adds to the nostalgic feeling — likewise the ancient caravans selling French fries or the Dutch seaside snack of kibbeling that are part of the action. After theatrical exposure, the production package will look equally fine on the small screen.

Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

Reviewed online, Berlin, Feb. 13, 2019. (In Berlin Film Festival, Generation Plus.) Running time: 84 MIN. (Original title: ‘Mijn bijzonder rare week met Tess’)

Production: (Netherlands-Germany) A Bind production in co-production with Ostlicht Filmproduktion, VPRO, with the support of the Netherlands Film Fund, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, Netherlands Film Production Incentive, CoBo, Creative Europe. (International sales: Picture Tree Intl., Berlin). Producers: Joram Willink, Piet-Harm Sterk. Co-producers: Marcel Lenz, Guido Schwab.

Crew: Director: Steven Wouterlood. Screenplay: Laura van Dijk, based on the book "My Particularly Peculiar Week With Tess" by Anna Woltz. Camera (color): Sal Kroonenberg. Editor: Christine Houbiers. Music: Franziska Henke.

With: Sonny van Utteren, Josephine Arendsen, Julian Ras, Tjebbo Gerritsma, Suzan Boogaerdt, Johannes Kienast, Terence Schreurs, Jennifer Hoffman, Hans Dagelet, Guido Pollemans.  

More Film

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content