Endless Summer

Refusing the Hollywood hall pass afforded by her family tree, Summer, the
final Phoenix, takes flight on her own terms.

By Barton Blasengame Photographs by Collier Schorr

The year is 1987. deep in her grateful dead lunchbox, 9-year-old Summer
Joy Phoenix, a pigtailed nugget of fourth-grade granola, packs a
patchouliscented menu of intrigue.
As the rest of her San Diego elementary-school set demolishes cardboard
pizza and mechanised dairy droppings, the fifth and final member of the
Phoenix clan privatly sups on such alien victuals as "soy" and "tempeh."
Her inscrubtable diet is topped off with a taste of social isolation:
after all, this is a girl who's spent her intire life, until now,
home-schooled by her parents, John and Heart, on the family's Florida
commune. As she interacts for the first time with pencil-packing munchkin
carnivores, the world is reduced to a collision of digestive philosophies.
"I remember kids being like, 'Blue corn chips?' 'Tofu salad?' " explains
Phoenix, amber eyes flaming like sparklers. "That's when I went
'Ohhhh....not everybody's like we were.' It was six months before I knew
that most people ate meat."
fourteen years later, Summer Phoenix is still anti-flesh (she's even
converted boyfriend Casey Affleck: "It helps with his mucus," she giggle).
But nowadays she compensate for the meat-free Slim Goodbody act by talking
through the butt end of an american spirit.
And she's still not quite like everybody else. The bloodline she shares
with brothers Joaquin and River could have afforded her a
casting-call-free pass, but Summer has instead taken her lumps in such
bruised-plum roles as the "fuck-you-Girl" in The Faculty and "Stoned
Girl's Friend" in Can't Hardly Wait.
"I wanted to make my own way," she says, tucking a sprig of hair behind
her ear. Besides, she adds, "there's not some big huge door that opens up
because you have a certain last name. It's almost like you have to prove
yourself even more."
So like any thespian with a contrarian background, Phoenix chose to pad
her résumé in France. She got her first break in Esther Kahn, a film
directed by French legend Arnaud despechin (My Sex Life). Back home, her
wrath in Kahn had art-house mouths spitting gooey adjectives, paving the
way for meatier roles in such low-budget staples as Dinner Rush and The
believer - the same career-making formula worked for Joaquin (To Die For)
and River (My Own Private Idaho). After a few more roles, Hollywood took
notice of whather surviving brother has long known to be true.
"Summer's really stronge," says Joaquin Phoenix. "She has integrity -
always has - and takes acting very seriously. She's never wanted to waste
time on projects that weren't important to her."
In March, Phoenix takes a swing at the Gen Y masses with a starring role
in the heroin comedown Wasted, a made-for-MTV movie. Wasted plays like a
mediocre episode of My So Called Life (jittery quick-cuts, crusty
dialogue, and a inescapable nouveau-rock sundtrack), but phoenix
transcends the trash as a mopey suburban smack addict struggling to get
clean - a subject important enough to her to endure working for MTV.
"I don't even watch TV," she says. "But I appreciated the fact that
they're trying to be socially conscious."
Now 23, Summer is the same age her brother River was when he suffered his
highprofile, drug-induced heart failure outside L.A.'s Viper Room in 1993.
For obvious reasons, the subject still isn't easy for her to talk about
(she was 14 at the time). But such questions come with her new territory;
the cigarette in her slender hand trembles at the mention of his name.
"I mean, there's nothing that I feel I owe the world, any words that are
going to wrap anything up for anybody," she wispers determinedly, grinding
a tear into her cheek. "He was a beatiful man, a beatiful brother, and I
respected him greatly and I miss him so much."
There's a silence, a hard swallow, and then a sliver of a smile burrows
its way across her face. "The thing I'll always remember about him," she
says, "was that no dream was to big."
In a family of big dreamers, Summer's still got a few plans for her pillow.
"I like to think of myself as the tortoise that wins the race," she says,
craning her neck towards the sky. "I'm enduring, ya know?"
Click on pictures to see them large