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‘Winter Spring Summer or Fall’ Review: Jenna Ortega’s Feathery Romance

‘Winter Spring Summer or Fall’ Review: Jenna Ortega’s Feathery Romance

With a premise about young love, two charismatic leads and a title like Winter Spring Summer or Fall, Tiffany Paulsen’s feature is likely to draw vague comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (and sequels). But while it’s highly unlikely to attain that canonical status, this film edges into distinctive enough territory thanks to Wednesday stars Jenna Ortega and Percy Hynes White. Their genuine chemistry and grounded performances give the feathery story a needed touch of weight. 

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, Winter Spring Summer or Fall aims to gift Gen Z the kind of rooting-for-them romance on offer for every generation: the unlikely match-up at the center of A Walk to Remember; the music-driven pairing of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist; and, as mentioned, the more emotionally risky and formally adventurous Before movies.

Winter Spring Summer or Fall

The Bottom Line

A wispy love story grounded by genuine performances.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Cast: Jenna Ortega, Percy Hynes-White, Marisol Nichols, Adam Rodriguez, Elias Kacavas, Evangeline Barrosse
Director: Tiffany Paulsen
Screenwriter: Dan Schoffer

1 hour 37 minutes

The film follows Remi (Ortega) and Barnes (White), two New Jersey teens who fall in love over four seasons. They meet in winter on a train ride to an uncanny version of New York; this city has a well-funded subway, functionally designed trains with brand new seats and an express stop at 92nd street. Barnes approaches Remi first, and the two spend an afternoon bantering. A minor bike accident lands Remi in the emergency room, where she rejects Barnes’ offer for a date despite how much fun she had. She reasons that her future can’t include “someone like him.” 

What that means exactly is shaky. Barnes is more of a sketch than a fully fleshed-out character. We meet him as a rebellious teenager, an undefinable music-obsessed adolescent content to live in the present. When Remi asks him about college, he shrugs at the thought. It’s all cool — enticing even — until their relationship starts in earnest. A winter rejection leads to a springtime adventure on prom night. Information about Barnes trickles in: an itinerant childhood, a military nurse mother, no relationship with his father. 

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Still, he remains shadowy, especially considering the role his background plays in the film’s dramatic turn. One wonders about his relationship to his mother, his dogged pursuit of Remi and more. Part of this nagging curiosity is attributable to White’s strong performance. Here, as in 2024 Sundance charmer My Old Ass, he plays a love interest with a lot more to offer than a pretty face. In the summer, when Barnes and Remi start dating, we get glimpses of a consideration and dimensionality that energize the pair’s relationship. But it’s fleeting. 

Although Remi is a bundle of clichés — ambitious suburban teen whose intelligence separates her from the rest of her peers — her motivations are clearer, the stakes of this relationship for her future and her sense of self more legible. Ortega gives Remi some edge, finding ways to surprise us.

Ortega and White’s endearing turns make you want more from Remi and Barnes’ love story as the seasons change. Winter Spring Summer or Fall, which was written by Dan Schoffer, presents their romance in languorous vignettes. The relaxed tone reflects, for the most part, the ease with which the two find each other over the course of the year. But there are times when the ambling pace comes off as more than a little aimless. Further conversations between them — about their routines and interests, for example — would have helped the film’s focus and pacing. 

Some of the meandering does lead to memorable moments. Paulsen, a writer of romantic comedies like About Fate and Holidate, has an intuitive sense of how to make you blush, wielding the power of close-ups to capture the longing gazes and subtle touches — fingers grazing a shoulder, a hand lifting a chin — exchanged between Remi and Barnes. The music, too, helps set the mood (Paulsen collaborated with Death Cab for Cutie’s Zac Rae and Michael Turner), mirroring the rebellious spirit of our lovers’ union. These elements come together nicely to capture the heady idealism and passion of young love.

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