For the first time in years, it feels like movies are really, truly back, with two major-studio films in particular breaking box-office records and bringing a welcome flush of excitement back to cinemas worldwide. But the summer’s biggest movies have also dominated the discourse, crowding out smaller films released this summer that also deserve to be seen—and that may need more of a push than before given the WGA and SAG strikes’ impact on the promotional campaigns of many projects.
So here are a few excellent films you may not have heard of that were released earlier this summer or will be landing in theaters in the upcoming weeks. All first features from thrilling new voices, these movies bring a startling freshness to what may seem like familiar storylines or tropes—with a few upending typically bleak or tragic identity narratives with humor, originality, and, above all, humanity.
Set in northern England in 1988, Georgia Oakley’s impressive directorial debut, Blue Jean, takes place against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s still-little-known efforts to stigmatize gays and lesbians. Rosy McEwen, in her first film leading role, stars as straitlaced Jean, who’s become adept at compartmentalizing: She’s a gym teacher by day who has recently joined a group of out-and-proud lesbians in their carousing at night. But the arrival of a new student shatters her carefully constructed double life. The film—shot on lush 16mm film and featuring Jean’s effortlessly cool ’80s wardrobe and some era-perfect needle drops—succeeds as a moving, grounded, and all-too-rare portrait of a fledgling community just finding its voice. Based on extensive interviews with lesbians from that period, Blue Jean underscores that, then as now, the personal is political. Available to rent on Apple TV, YouTube, Amazon, and other platforms.