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"The Summer I Turned Pretty"?
Or the summer that every streaming teen beach romance was filmed in Wilmington?
OK, so only two streaming teen beach romances that filmed in Wilmington last year made their debuts this summer. But Amazon Prime series "The Summer I Turned Pretty," which premiered its seven-episode first season last Friday, and Netflix film "Along for the Ride," which dropped in May, both make pretty good cases for why the industry should just film all of their content containing both teens and beaches here moving forward.
The stories of beautiful people playing out against a beautiful backdrop is clearly a winning combination, and whether or not you're a fan of teen dramas and all they entail, it's impossible to deny that "The Summer I Turned Pretty" looks great. (And, with a massive, A-list soundtrack featuring everything from contemporary hits by Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Cardi B — and that's just for starters — to such as classics as Electric Light Orchestra's “Mr. Blue Sky” and Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag," it sounds great, too.)
The show is based on a best-selling series of young adult novels by Jenny Han, whose YA credentials include her mega-popular book series of "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," which were turned into a series of movies. (Han is also an executive producer of "The Summer I Turned Pretty" and its showrunner.)
Now, with "The Summer I Turned Pretty" going (Amazon) Prime time, Han looks like nothing less than the go-to source for teen girl coming-of-ages stories, chronicles of angst, longing and family drama that also aren't afraid to get a little gritty. If it was in theaters, "Pretty" would probably get an R based on language alone.
The show stars newcomer Lola Tung as Belly (a nickname for Isabel), a 15-year-old girl who suddenly "blossoms" (yes, the word is uttered) during her annual sojourn to the tony Cousins Beach with her bro-ish big brother (Sean Kaufman) and financially struggling writer mom (Jackie Chung of "Grey's Anatomy").
Belly's budding beauty is a big hit on Cousins Beach, and it attracts the attention of the requisitely hot sons of her mom's rich best friend, played by Rachel Blanchard ("Fargo"), whose amazing home Belly and fam stay at. (She's also the one who tells Belly she's "blossomed.")
Christopher Briney plays the brooding hunk Conrad, who is Belly's longtime crush but whose substance abuse in particular, and angsty malaise in general, are thrown up as red flags.
Might Conrad's equally hunky little brother, Jeremiah, played by Gavin Casalegno, be a better fit for Belly? Or maybe she should steer clear of both brothers and go with Cam (David Iacono), the cute boy she met on the beach? No spoilers here, but it will take at least seven episodes, and probably more, to resolve.
— emma✨ (@booksofemma) June 18, 2022
It's all plenty watchable, and anyone hoping to get a glimpse of the Wilmington area won't be disappointed, either, as any time one of the characters steps outside (aside from a high-flying establishing shot from some beach in New England, where the show's Cousins Beach is located) they walk into a local setting.
The south end of Wrightsville Beach, and the jetty there, get some screen time, as do familiar-looking beach trails and the rocks down at Fort Fisher. When Belly's bff Taylor (Rain Spencer) comes to visit, pick-up and drop-off is at the Padgett Station bus terminal on North Fourth Street, with the Brooklyn Arts Center showing up in the background.
Belly strolls and shops the streets of downtown Southport and, almost unbelievably, longtime Wilmington convenience store Russell's Quik Stop, located on Wrightsville Avenue near Castle Street, plays a beach-based mini-mart — the exact same role it played in "Along for the Ride" in May.
If you're keeping track, other things "The Summer I Turned Pretty" and "Along for the Ride" have in common (aside from Russell's and being beach-set teen romances based on popular young adult novels): late-night beach bonfire parties with lots of teen hook-up action; literary aspirations, or at least a penchant for name-dropping famous book titles and authors; brooding, mysterious and apparently irresistible teen boys; and Parents Who Just Don't Understand but whose interesting jobs and relatable problems (Belly's mom is recently divorced) make them rather more than hectoring cardboard cutouts.
The Cape Fear Country Club on Oleander Drive is shown in all its monied glory as the place where Belly's brother works and where Belly accepts an invitation to appear in the debutante ball. (In one scene at the club, Belly's mom, who is Asian-American, jokes that going there might relegate her to "the sunken place," a reference to a miserable realm subjugated beneath the glittery, shallow and somehow sinister White World depicted in Jordan Peele's Black nightmare film "Get Out.")
The ladies go on shopping sprees at bridal shop Camille's of Wilmington and the upscale women's store Monkees in Lumina Station, and Belly's brother and his girlfriend, the well-dressed Shayla (Minnie Mills), lunch at the Pilot House downtown.
Also downtown, Papercut Books at Second at Market streets plays the Whale of a Tale bookstore, where Belly's mom tries to get the staff to carry her non-bestselling novel. Later episodes feature the Cape Fear Club and St. Mary Catholic church downtown, as well as Capt'n Bill's Backyard Grill & Volleyball Facility on Market Street. Some scenes were shot on sound stages at EUE Screen Gems Studios.
Former Wilmington actor Adam Poole makes an appearance in the first episode, playing a cop who goes easy on the rich kids because he knows their family is A Big Deal. Wilmington actor J.R. Rodriguez scores a line as a glad-handing patron at a book party, and local actors Ed Wagenseller and Jon Stafford score small roles as well.
And, while "Along for the Ride" has already started to fade from the memory like a hazy beach weekend, "The Summer I Turned Pretty" will continue to draw attention to the Wilmington area's natural beauty for a while, thanks to stories like the one on PopSugar.com that featured "the East coast beach city" where the series was filmed.
Season two of "The Summer I Turned Pretty" starts shooting soon in the Wilmington area, so it seems likely that those types of stories are going to keep coming for a while.
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.
This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Amazon's 'The Summer I Turned Pretty' shows off Wilmington NC, beaches