Gavin Casalegno and Lola Tung star in "The Summer I Turned Pretty." Photo courtesy of Prime Video
LOS ANGELES, June 16 (UPI) -- The Summer I Turned Pretty, premiering Friday on Prime Video, is an edgier take on teen love than To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Author Jenny Han's latest adaptation focuses on the discomfort of growing pains.
Belly's (Lola Tung) narration depicts the monumental nature of Cousins Beach, her family's annual summer vacation spot. The local teenage boys all notice how beautiful she is now that she's about to turn 16.
The audience doesn't see younger Belly until Episode 3, and she's not gawky then, either. She just isn't a woman yet.
The summer of her 16th birthday party, Belly tries out new interests like the local debutante ball and has her first romances. Her mother, Laurel (Jackie Chung), and the local boys struggle with those interests.
This is much less of a high concept than Han's To All the Boys I Loved Before. There are no secret letters bringing suitors into Belly's life, only natural social encounters and developing relationships.
Han captures how teenagers project bravado, so they don't have to talk about their feelings, mostly toward boys. Then, when confronted on their inappropriate behavior, they either get real or evasive.
What's important is that Belly is a joke to her brother, Steven (Sean Kaufman), and friends Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno). It's hard to be sincere about things as an adult, let alone as a teenager. The world encourages detachment and mocking.
All this acting out can be hard to take. The boys are really obnoxious, but it's realistic. They're clearly masking what threatens them with bravado.
These teens swear, drink and smoke marijuana. Conrad especially may have a problem, as he's using it to cope with larger issues.
Laurel and Susannah's (Rachel Blanchard) families share the summer house. Susannah is Conrad and Jeremiah's mother. Both single mothers struggle to let go of their kids as they approach adulthood.
The show also demonstrates how it's different for girls on the cusp than it is for boys, both because mothers can be more protective, and because society is literally more dangerous for women.
The soundtrack can be a little overbearing like it's selling an album more than scoring the scene. Belly sings along with Kim Petras on the radio, bombastic music plays when the kids run into the ocean, and a pensive Olivia Rodrigo track shows how Belly is reflecting after a conflict at a party.
"Teenage Dirthouse" by Patric McFly even scores a makeout scene. All of that may be trying too hard to appeal to the young audience when they could trust the material a bit more.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is full of fun fashion montages and romantic scenes to balance out the heaviness. It speaks to what teenagers are going through and what adults remember about that time in their lives.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.