How would you spend that final year if you were given a year to live? Living for yourself or living for others? This question is explored in Quentin Lee’s coming-of-age drama, Last Summer of Nathan Lee.
This is Nathan Lee’s (Harrison Xu) last summer. Right off the bat, we see that the summer will end with the wedding of Nathan and his best friend, Dash (Matthew Mitchell Espinosa). When we flashback to the beginning of the fall, Nathan is trying to come to grips with his fatal brain tumor. He has only a year to live, and he is still a virgin.
Nathan and Dash decide to film a documentary about Nathan’s last year but tell all their friends that it’s about their senior year. The first day of shooting takes the pair to a pool party, where Nathan hooks up with his sexy crush, April (Dru Perez), and he’s a virgin no more. Now the school year is off to a great start, except for the brain cancer, but great nonetheless.
As the year progresses, Nathan starts to fall for Loralei (Natasha Tina Liu), who wants to go to college to become an actress. Unfortunately, Loralei is the third wheel in Dash’s crush on Nathan. While everyone at school is looking ahead to the future regarding college and careers, Nathan can only focus on the present and living each day to its fullest. Let’s not forget Nathan and Dash wind up getting married at the end.
I’ll be honest. I’m a bit too old and conservative for this film. Last Summer of Nathan Lee explores a wide spectrum of adolescent sexual exploration and orientation that I just didn’t face when I was a teen in the 1980s. But it’s unfair for me to judge this film based on my experiences decades ago.
“…come to grips with his fatal brain tumor. He has only a year to live, and he is still a virgin.”
At its core, Last Summer of Nathan Lee is about friendship in the 2020s. Societal roles and traditions have been tested and evolved. Friends can kiss. Friends can have sex. Couples are physically intimate, and so are thruples. Yet, friendships are still about friendship. We support one another. We come through when life gets tough.
Then there’s family. Nathan’s old country father is having trouble not only with losing his son but the choices he makes with the friends he keeps. The bonds of family are tested. He’s also set in the old ways, insisting that Nathan goes to college…even if he never has the chance to go.
As a film, Last Summer of Nathan Lee is a very low-budget indie film. There’s little to no soundtrack. It boasts a barebones camera crew, and though the production looks cheap, director Quentin Lee never makes it feel cheap. His story is shot like a documentary, with either Dash or Nathan holding the camera…even while having sex.
What elevates this production over most low-budget indies is the cast. Each actor has done minor roles on television and in movies, which is is their chance to shine with meatier roles. As a group, this cast has chemistry. If I didn’t know better and I don’t. These actors were either great friends before shooting, or they’re great actors. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t The Breakfast Club, but at least it’s not Disney Channel acting.
It would be a disservice to Last Summer of Nathan Lee to simply place it in the LGBTQ+ genre. It’s a teen drama with characters that are straight, gay, and somewhere in between. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re open-minded, this teen drama is worth checking out.
For screening information, visit the Last Summer of Nathan Lee official website.
"…about friendship in the 2020s. Societal roles and traditions have been tested and evolved."