The word ‘naturalistic’ has very particular connotations when used to describe cinema. Handheld camera, loose compositions, deliberately-muddled foley; that sort of thing. However May in the Summer’s naturalism bears none of these characteristics. When May (Cherien Dabas, writer and director besides) returns to her home country of Jordan shortly before her wedding, the conversations she has with her sisters (Nadine Malouf & Alia Shawkat) and born-again Christian mother (Hiam Abbass – who also starred in Rock the Casbah, with which this film shares more than a bit) have the ring of gentle, unadorned truth. For a while, it’s the rare film that presents a genuine portrait of female friendship and family all at once.
It’s a shame, then, that the screenplay thinks it necessary to slide further and further into a melodramatic morass that’s utterly oppose to the gentle charms of its first act. A series of twists and conflicts – many revolving around May’s remarried father (Bill Pullman) – drag May in the Summer away from such lighthearted naturalism towards a climax that feels contrived and, sadly, false. I would’ve happily listened to these characters exchange casual barbs and banter for two hours without the need for all of this silly ‘plot.’