This week, IndieWire will be rolling out our annual Summer Preview, including offerings that span genres, niche offerings for dedicated fans, a closer look at festival favorites finally headed to a theater near you, and plenty of special attention to all the new movies you need to get through a jam-packed summer movie-going season.
Check back throughout the week for a new look at the best the season has to offer, and clear your schedule, because we’re going to fill it right up.
From documentaries about real-life heroines to first-time features involving the kind of high schoolers anyone would hope to be no matter their age, this summer’s selection of films that just so happen to be directed by women is as rich and varied as ever. Bolstered by offerings from Olivia Wilde, Lynn Shelton, Jennifer Kent, Gurinder Chadha, and more, there’s more than enough to pick through, both at the theater and streaming on a TV near you.
Today — a selection of a dozen features directed (or co-directed) by female filmmakers to get excited about seeing, including works from rising stars, indie favorites, and more.
No one would believe the ending of Rachel Lears’ “Knock Down the House” if it wasn’t splashed all over the news months ago, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t land with a gut punch and more than a few tears. Originally imagined — and, as evidenced by a successful Kickstarter campaign, quite literally pitched — as a documentary about the changing face of America’s political strivers, the inspiring film inevitably changed significantly along the way. The result is an immediate and engaging look inside a system so many newbies are eager to mold into a fresh vision, bolstered by the star wattage of a newly minted political powerhouse. Lears’ film focuses on four first-time candidates scattered around the country, all women, all from working class backgrounds, all pursuing political office for different reasons, though the film inevitably gives way to the full-force power of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign and charisma. (Yes, the film ends with her New York primary win; no, it doesn’t blink at the inevitability that its audience is well-aware of what’s to come.) A film just about Ocasio-Cortez would certainly have been compelling enough, but it would have been lacking the central idea that drives Ocasio-Cortez and her compatriots: for one of them to break free, a hundred will have to fail. Netflix will release the film in select theaters and on its streaming platform. —KE
National treasure Amy Poehler steps behind the camera for her feature directorial debut, backed up by some of her favorite fellow talents, including screenwriters Paula Pell and Liz Cackowski (both of whom appear in the film) and a star-studded cast of other “SNL” standouts like Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and Ana Gasteyer. One part “Girls Trip,” one part “Bridesmaids,” Poehler’s film sets up a feel-good gals’ weekend in Napa Valley that spirals out of control, and it’s not just the booze that pushes the ladies over the edge. Bolstered by the addition of Jason Schwartzman as their wacky tour guide and a bonded pack of talented ladies, the Netflix comedy is poised to be another breakout hit for online streamer. Netflix will release the film in select theaters and on its streaming platform. —KE
Indie filmmaker Ry Russo-Young was best known for features like “Nobody Walks” and “You Wont Miss Me” before taking on a seemingly offbeat gig with the YA adaptation “Before I Fall.” The moody, “Groundhog Day”-esque feature ended up being a stellar fit for the director, who took her dramatic chops and used them to make an honest, emotional coming-of-age tale in some high concept packaging. That’s she back for another YA adaptation is very good news for the genre indeed, and this time around she’ll be tackling a Nicola Yoon novel (the same writer behind the charmer “Everything, Everything”), a canny combination if there ever was one. Starring Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton, the romance follows a pair of teens who find love during a strange time in their lives — but anyone who knows Yoon’s work knows that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and one Russo-Young is well-equipped to navigate. —KE
There isn’t much of a story in Joanna Hogg’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning, and wholly heartfelt and searingly honest “The Souvenir.” The British director, somehow a breakthrough talent for the last 30 years, has always been less interested in plot than condition. Nevertheless, this elliptical, semi-autobiographical study of creative awakening lands with the weight of an epic. Set in the early 1980’s, shot with the gauzy harshness of “Phantom Thread,” and named after an 18th century rococo painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Hogg’s most affecting work to date to charts the doomed romance between a young filmmaker (the remarkable Honor Swinton Byrne) and the troubled older man (Tom Burke) who sparks her potential. More than just a tender self-portrait, “The Souvenir” becomes a diorama-esque dissection of that volatile time in your life when every molecule feels like it’s restlessly vibrating in place, and even a brief encounter with another person has the power to rearrange your basic chemistry; when you’re so desperate to become yourself that you’ll happily believe in anyone else you happen to find along the way. And the best thing about it might be the fact that a sequel (pairing Byrne with Robert Pattinson) is set to shoot this summer. —DE
Actress-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde has been honing her craft for years now, boning up on filmmaking by working with some of cinema’s most exciting auteurs (she starred in Morano’s “Meadowland,” and the pair seemed to have adored working alongside each other) and helming short films and music videos (include a 2016 banger for the Red Hot Chili Peppers). It’s high time she made her feature directorial debut, and “Booksmart” sounds like a hell of a fit for the budding director. With a screenplay that includes contributions from rising comedic stars like Katie Silberman and Susannah Fogel, the film stars indie faves Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as a pair of besties who realize during the waning days of high school that they didn’t have as much fun as they should have. So they set about fixing that, in the minimum of time. It sounds fun and frisky, but with so much talent behind the camera, we’re betting it will also have a ton of heart, too. —KE
Like Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s 2017 Oscar-nominated “The Big Sick,” “Late Night” deals with how cultures collide, this time in the over-heated New York talk show universe. Directed by TV veteran Nisha Ganatra, the movie centers on screenwriter-producer-star Mindy Kaling as the diversity hire for a failing all-male writers room for a powerful woman talk-show host finally confronting a ratings slide. She’s played with such brio by Oscar winner Emma Thompson (“Howard’s End”) that a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination should be in the bag, assuming the comedy-drama (Tomatometer: 86 percent) delivers at the summer box office. Kaling and Thompson carry the movie as its tone veers from uncomfortable fish-out-of-water conflict to slapstick comedy to gratifying female empowerment tale. —AT
Indiana Jones’ least-favorite movie of all time, Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage’s “Them That Follow” is set in a snake handling church in the heart of Appalachia, where a deranged preacher (Walton Goggins) has read a bit too much into a Bible verse that suggests people should hold serpents in their hands in order to test God’s love. Surprise surprise, that doesn’t work out so well, as a rattle snake sinks its venomous fangs into a community that’s already been poisoned by doubt and heresy. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” actor Thomas Mann plays a young non-believer, while the starry cast is rounded out by Olivia Colman and Jim Gaffigan as the boy’s parents, and Alice Engler as the very devout girl he loves. A tightly coiled thriller that’s tangled up in questions of love and faith, “Them that Follow” was a left-field smash at Sundance, and could become one of the summer’s more unexpected sleeper hits when The Orchard releases it theatrically in June. —DE
Anyone with a large Chinese family going back several generations will probably appreciate much about the one depicted in tender detail in “The Farewell,” director Lulu Wang’s touching and understated second feature. For everyone else, Awkwafina’s performance is a terrific gateway. The rapper-turned-actress’ best performance takes a sharp turn away from her zany supporting roles for a restrained and utterly credible portrait of cross-cultural frustrations. As a Chinese-American grappling with the traditionalism of her past and its impact on the future, she’s an absorbing engine for the movie’s introspective look at a most unusual family reunion. Based on a 2016 episode of “This American Life” drawn from Wang’s own experiences, “The Farewell” centers on Billi, an out-of-work New York writer who learns from her parents that her beloved grandmother — that is, her “Nai Nai” (Zhao Shuzhen) — has terminal cancer. While this premise could have birthed a quirky dramedy, Wang’s restrained approach instead yield a remarkable slow-burn immersion into her character’s life, as she struggles with the conflicting emotions of loyalty and resentment that define her adult life. It’s a remarkable window into Asian American identity to which future audiences will surely relate, and a welcome introduction to a filmmaker who’s just getting started. —EK
A decade after solidifying her improv-heavy approach with “Humpday,” Lynn Shelton has delivered another endearing misadventure about bored, wistful people compelled to gamble on a reckless proposition. Like Shelton’s best movies, “Sword of Trust” operates as a small-scale ensemble piece owing just as much to the rest of its cast. Essentially a four-hander, the story revolves around Birmingham couple Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins), who inherit a grimy sword from the Confederate army left behind by Cynthia’s deceased grandfather. His letter ties the object to a century-plus shadow organization convinced that the South won the war, and the bemused pair decide to take the object to a pawn shop. There’s where they find Mel (Maron), a dyspeptic manager unconvinced by the backstory but willing to offer a measly $400 — until a bit of internet research with his dopey assistant Nathaniel (a very funny slacker type played by Jon Bass) uncovers a whole network of racist lunatics willing to pay outrageous prices for that very object. After some petty arguments and clumsy negotiations, Mel agrees to split the loot with his reticent clients, yielding an unwieldy team-up as they prepare to confront a bizarre array of Southern caricatures. —EK
Acclaimed filmmakers often face the challenge of big expectations on their second features, but Jennifer Kent joins the ranks of sophomore filmmakers whose new movies expand on their debuts in startlingly ambitious ways. She charts her own path in “The Nightingale,” a savage journey that might not have been worth the trip were its guide not so adept at navigating the darkness. Set in 1825 Tasmania, it stars Aisling Franciosi as an Irish convict living under the thumb of a British officer (Sam Claflin) who only desires two things in life: to be promoted to captain, and to make this woman miserable for his own enjoyment. He does so not only by forcing her to sing for him — Franciosi’s Clare is the songbird of the title — but by forcing himself on her when she asks him to finally make good on a longstanding promise to release her from her bonds. There’s nothing cathartic in Clare’s efforts to mete out justice, with one tragedy merely compounding another; the higher the body count rises, the more zero-sum it all becomes. This isn’t the fun kind of revenge drama, and by it end it hardly feels like a revenge movie at all — Kent is as concerned with the plight of Australia’s indigenous people as she is with Clare’s. —MN
The “World Trade Center” and “Straight Outta Compton” screenwriter steps into directing with a star-powered adaptation of the Ollie Powers comic. Featuring Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish, and Melissa McCarthy as a motley crew of would-be criminals who are forced to takeover their husbands’ mob empire in 1970s New York. It sounds a bit like this year’s underseen gem “Widows,” but Berloff’s film promises to deliver a similar story with plenty more laughs, and early reports hold that Berloff snagged the directing gig after writing the script because she offered some fresh edge to the story. —KE
A glorious and almost terminally pure coming-of-age story about a repressed British Pakistani teen in 1987 Luton whose mind explodes when he discovers an uncool American poet by the name of Bruce Springsteen, Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded by the Light” is a film that feels as out of time as the music tastes of its 16-year-old protagonist. It exudes the earnestness of a Bollywood musical, embraces the familiar immigrant tropes of a less diasporic world, and electrifies its paper-thin but profoundly lovable characters with an optimism that’s as rare in Thatcher’s England as it is in Trump’s America.
And Chadha isn’t the least bit sorry about that, nor about how transparently she combines the warm cross-cultural friction of her own “Bend it Like Beckham” with the exuberance of “Sing Street” before transforming them both with the bone-deep power of the Boss himself (Springsteen gave her permission to use his music as soon as he read the script). “Blinded by the Light” is the kind of guileless crowd-pleaser that will make some people cry a river of tears and others roll their eyes into the backs their heads; it will probably make a lot of people do both. But if you have even the slightest emotional connection to Springsteen’s music — if you’ve ever found salvation in a rock song, or desperately wished that you could change your clothes, your hair, your face — this giddy steamroller of a movie is going to flatten you whether you like it or not. —DE