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“Summer Solstice” reviewed

Writer/director Noah Schamus takes us on a delightful but sharp-edged jaunt to Upstate New York with their sun-dappled and warmly directed buddy comedy, “Summer Solstice.” The film stars Bobbi Salvör Menuez (“Fantasmas,” “My Animal“) as a trans actor tumbling through one dead-end audition after another, only to be jolted back to life by the sudden reappearance of a long-ago friend, the straight and cisgender Eleanor (Marianne Rendón). But Eleanor knew Leo before he began transitioning, a process Leo is still going through, much to his own social discomfort about revealing that. The unapologetically queer (and on all sides of the camera) “Summer Solstice” is wise and unsentimental in all the right places, even as its ending hits at a sweeter spot than the otherwise gently sardonic movie that comes before it.

“We’re looking for a transgender man or a transgender woman: Which one are you?” a tasteless casting director asks Leo at the end of auditioning for a part he obviously didn’t get. His days and ways living in where else but Brooklyn include a string of acting classes (you know, the insufferably self-conscious kind that “Hacks” comedian Deborah Vance would roll her eyes at) and an empty situationship with a shallow girl from class. Up the East Coast comes Eleanor, Leo’s former best friend and a whirling dervish in a daffodil dress. She’s in the middle of untangling from a relationship with a guy named Will, who seems to only exist in text, and whom she may have broken up with already.

So Leo’s idyllic housesitting gig in the moneyed storybook town of Hudson is crashed by Eleanor and her baggage for a weekend of boozy revisitations of the past. There’s many a film about a romantic partnership coming undone and back together, but rarely do we see the fragments of a faded friendship sifted over, like flipping through a photo album of the past. “I teach during the year and travel every summer,” says Eleanor, the sort of wanderluster in a sundress we all know, the free spirit who’ll always be freer than we are, who comes back into our lives as if dropping from the sky, ready to muss it up again. Rendón is hilarious as a lost cause who knows she is; at one point, her cisness rears its most blatant head when, swimming up to the poolside, she suggests to Leo and another trans man that like everyone, she’s a little queer too, and that maybe she’s “queering heterosexuality.” A scene where Eleanor helps Leo read through sides for an audition reveals that Eleanor might actually be a better actor than Leo — or at least the one who’s more honest.

Menuez makes a statement in a performance built on reticence and a bristling under one’s own skin. Leo is currently chest-binding, which he has to explain to Eleanor, who responds in the only way she can: with microaggressions. That leads to some uncomfortable lingering around the pool in which Leo refuses to swim mid-transition, despite Eleanor’s entreaties. Their weekend in the country, though, inevitably leads to hard truths and revelations. At one point they are “metaphorically and literally lost in the woods,” and that might as well be the wood of their own friendship. It’s fraught enough that Leo and Eleanor, back in the day, once hooked up; but Eleanor has not seen Leo since he came out and began transitioning. Which leads to all sorts of social awkwardness on both ends.

Cinematographer Jack Davis shoots “Summer Solstice” with the crisp allure of pool water reflecting on a glass surface, akin to a lazy sunny afternoon spent in a hammock or watching ants crawl across a blade of grass. Those are the vibes, as Schamus’ feature debut feels like a neverending summer day free of responsibility — until summer ends and with it reckonings of the past must come. Menuez and Rendón share a terrific chemistry as long-holding-on friends questioning whether they should stay friends at all, and if they should, then why? Comedies like “Summer Solstice” rarely ask that question with such candor and insight, and with a trans lead actor and character the movie lets simply be themselves despite living in a world rigged against them.