James Ponsoldt has developed a solid directorial oeuvre on film and in television as the figurehead of largely character-driven pieces with independent roots. During this time, the Athens, Georgia native has put six films to the silver screen, acting as screenwriter on four of them, and has garnered a reputation as the type of filmmaker who can provide the tools necessary for a number of his stars to produce break-out dramatic performances, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miles Teller and Jason Segel each producing some of their best-ever work under the director’s tutelage.
In this edition of Ranked, each of James Ponsoldt’s films – from Off the Black in 2006 to Summering in 2022 – is being compared and contrasted to judge which are the best and which are the worst in terms of artistic achievement, emotional resonance, critical reception and audience perception. These are the James Ponsoldt Movies Ranked.
Follow @thefilmagazine on Twitter.
6. Summering (2022)
There are glimmers of James Ponsoldt’s typical late summer mood in Summering, and a number of ideas that seem like they could truly take flight in another lifetime, but James Ponsoldt’s first feature film in five years is by far the worst of his relatively short filmography; a film of barely threaded together metaphors that loses all direction and focus as each unrealistic moment is followed by another.
As has been typical of Ponsoldt’s time as a director, the performances in Summering are largely good. The film is centred upon four girls, all of whom add their own unique dynamics to the group and are directed to accentuate their better qualities as performers, while the adults involved also turn in layered and nuanced portrayals that are too good for the quality of film they are in.
The key issue here seems to be that the film loses track of every good idea it ever has; it drops the ball so many times. It’s confusing, not because it’s too profound or deep or interesting, but because every moment of manifested anxiety that the film is attempting to portray is tackled with such a lack of nuance or creativity – then is forgotten about or contradicted – that it becomes frankly nonsensical.
There are hints of the spirit of Ponsoldt’s better work in Summering, but given the quality of work the director was able to produce on television after The Circle (2017), this 2022 film is a huge disappointment.
Recommended for you: 10 Must-See One-Shot Films
5. The Circle (2017)
When Netflix announced a Tom Hanks-produced movie about internet privacy starring Emma Watson and John Boyega was to arrive on their streaming service in 2017, a lot of people were positive about what was to come. Unfortunately, what came was one of the biggest misses of James Ponsoldt’s career. Bad performances, a patronising story, below standard CG effects and an overall sense of what could have been made for a lacklustre offering.
It seems that the director often went missing when the film needed visual inspiration or an injection of character, and it was clear that he felt much less comfortable in the movie’s concept-driven formula than he had in his previous character-driven work.
The Circle at least makes sense (mostly) and isn’t entirely void of positives, but it is a red mark against an otherwise impressive character-driven filmography.