While Kate, Jeannette, and their intertwined group of family and friends attempt to piece together the drama of the past, figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth (or what they perceive as truth), and hang on to some semblance of hope for the future, the gang had plenty of great art to get them through the summer of ‘94. Here are some hopeful, cathartic examples of popular entertainment from another wild year in the life of these characters.
The Bailey Game by Celia Rees
This overlooked British YA novel shares plenty in common with Cruel Summer in that it revolves around two distressed teenage girls – Alexis Lewis, the popular girl, and Lauren Price, the new awkward girl – who form an unsteady friendship amid the vicious and violent social environment of their school. The “Bailey Game” of the title refers to the school’s practice of singling out new students to mercilessly bully and intimate. This “game” once resulted in the death of a student (Michael Bailey), and now Alexis must try and save Lauren from the game while also trying to forgive herself for getting involved with the game in the first place.
The Lion King
The king of the summer! What child, teenager, or adult can resist this Disney classic. It’s somehow both epic and emotional, sweet and scary. While ultimately delivering on the feel-good happy-ending promise of the Disney brand, this so-called children’s film deals with themes of revenge, responsibility, and the lasting impact of family trauma. Best Disney movie ever.
Maybe Jeanette and Kate could have chilled out a little by going to see Forrest Gump in the summer of ‘94? Probably not. But it would have been worth a shot. Forrest certainly taught us how to just keep on moving forward in life, even if that means running away from what you’ve always known. That sense of hopeful optimism is infectious, and if Kate and Jeanette need one thing right now it’s hope for the future.
The Little Rascals
Light-hearted whimsy abounds in this charming family classic. If Cruel Summer is the nightmare version of high school, Little Rascals is the idealized dream of childhood: care-free, silly shenanigans with your friends all day long with no repercussions and no thought given towards the future.
Grace – Jeff Buckley
Uplifting, romantic, melancholic, and yearning, this debut from Jeff Buckley has equal parts love and sadness. His rendition of Hallelujah is still considered the definitive version of the song (used on Shrek and countless other films) and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it by the end of Cruel Summer as the cast continues to wrestle with their conflicting emotions. All his songs contain some sense of the sublime, of the transcendent (or at least the hope of transcendence), as well as the fragility of youth (Buckley died young) entering a harsh, judgmental world where all is not well. A beautiful and haunting album.