Spoilers Alert: The Dutch children’s dramedy My Extraordinary Summer with Tess tells of summer, sun, friendship and family. We’ll reveal in our review why a really good film came out.
OT: My Extraordinary Summer with Tess (NED/DE 2019)
The plot summary
Sam (Sonny Coops Van Utteren) spends a vacation with his family on the Dutch island of Terschelling and his older brother breaks his leg. That’s stupid for him, but good for Sam. Because the brotherly mishap leads to Sam meeting the stubborn Tess (Josephine Arendsen), a wild youngster. Her irrepressible energy immediately captivates Sam, and her outspoken way of involving Sam in everything she does also ensures that Sam has his own adventures on vacation, away from his parents and brother. So Sam is now torn. He actually wanted to finally practice being alone – just in case… Tess, on the other hand, is obsessed with giving a young couple the perfect vacation in a holiday apartment near the beach…
Based on the 2013 children’s book of the same name by Anna Woltz (“Plaster or How I Repaired the World in a Single Day”) from 2013, “My Wonderfully Strange Week with Tess” tells a somewhat thoughtful, somewhat amusing holiday adventure of two children on the threshold of puberty . Protagonist Sam thinks a lot about being alone during his summer vacation. He wants to isolate himself so he can practice what it’s like to live without his family one day. Sam’s melancholy is broken up (and sometimes reinforced when their little ventures don’t turn out the way he wants) by his chance acquaintance Tess. The daughter of a single woman is bursting with energy while Sam is practicing brooding and pondering, and has made it her goal to give a vacationing couple the perfect summer. And because Sam was within Tess’s grasp at the right (or wrong) time, he is now being dragged along on this mission.
Tess ((Sonny Coops Van Utteren)) is obsessed with giving a young couple the perfect vacation
So Sam experiences great joy despite himself, after all, there’s something special about being dragged around your home island by a very friendly, almost whirling random acquaintance as a soon-to-be-pubescent person and throwing yourself into a variety of activities. But he sometimes grieves about the time he has missed being alone. And other times, contrary to his intentions, he is annoyed at being alone – when he has arranged something with Tess and she doesn’t come. Or when he wants to suggest something to Tess, but she only has eyes and ears for the vacationing couple. Director Steven Wouterlood plausibly captures Sam’s mood swings and, most importantly, does not stage them with childish jitteriness, but rather finds the quiet moments between swings in one direction or the other. He lets the main actor Sonny Coops Van Utteren stew in melancholy, naive anticipation or childlike fantasies of anger and thus makes Sam’s ups and downs understandable and tangible even for outsiders.
“Based on the 2013 children’s book of the same name by Anna Woltz, “My Wonderfully Strange Week with Tess” tells a somewhat thoughtful, somewhat amusing holiday adventure between two children on the threshold of puberty.”
And Josephine Arendsen even becomes the real star of the film – her Tess is not, as such a story basis suggests, the object of Sam’s innocent holiday crush and the driving force behind his character transformation. She is an equal leading actress in this film: her liveliness and her sudden, seemingly abrupt depths are touchingly explored and she is changed by Sam’s uniform perspective on her projects, just as Sam grows through Tess’s ventures. Her self-confidence and her sometimes naively high hopes about an idyll of friendship and family show Sam, who is going through a blue sensory period, that he has to open up. His skepticism ultimately helps Tess not to build cloud castles that are too complex. In the end, the lesson remains: we may not be able to choose family, but we can define “family” and “familiarity” however we want.
For Sam (Sonny Coops Van Utteren), the holidays turn into something nice…
The fact that Steven Wouterlood and screenwriter Laura van Dijk turn the spring-like story in the book into a summer experience will make the material even more accessible, especially to film fans and families near the Dutch border, as “My Wonderfully Strange Week with Tess” captures the flair of our small tourist towns Neighbors perfect. He also uses the muted summer colors of the Dutch island to visually illustrate this clash of holiday joy and melancholy that drives the central characters. The fact that the supporting characters, on the other hand, are paler and flatter, the plot is somewhat contrived to free itself from dead ends and some of the dialogues, with less goodwill towards the filmmakers, are not reassuring but can be interpreted in a staid way, only tarnishes the overall impression a little.
“And Josephine Arendsen actually becomes the real star of the film – her Tess is not, as such a story basis suggests, the object of Sam’s innocent holiday crush and the driving force behind his character transformation.”
Conclusion: A summer full of intentional melancholy becomes a summer of experiences, insights and adventures – “My Extraordinary Summer with Tess” is a pleasant family cinema with heart and little rush.
“My Extraordinary Summer with Tess” can be seen in USA cinemas from September 3rd.