My Summer of Love
2004, R, 86 min. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Starring Nathalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine, Dean Andrews, Paul Antony-Barber.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 24, 2005
Mona (Press) rides a motorbike without a motor. Tamsin (Blunt) initially comes into view on the back of a horse. It's summertime in the Yorkshire countryside when these two bored teenage girls first meet. "That's funny. You don't look like a Mona," says Tamsin. And with that, Pawlikowski's ripe and symbolically drenched coming-of-age story is off and running. Erotically charged and steeped in class differences, My Summer of Love captures that sense of sultry summer ennui experienced by disgruntled teens convinced they’re trapped in podunk. The film’s strongest asset is its faithfulness to the erratic extremes of adolescent angst and emotional upheaval. These girls feel honest and real, and newcomers Press and Blunt make strong impressions as the two leads. Freckle-faced Mona, who looks like she could be the love child of Sissy Spacek and Tilda Swinton, has just been dumped by her very-much-older, married boyfriend. An orphan, she lives above the town bar with her brother (Considine), an ex-con who’s been born again and converts the tavern into a religious study center and spends his time building a giant cross to plant atop the valley’s tallest hill. Her sulky, I-can’t-believe-I’m-stuck-here doldrums are immediately lifted by the alluring, and seemingly worldly-wise, Tamsin. A boarding-school girl, she piques Mona’s curiosity with her stories of being kicked out of school and the sad death of her anorexic sister. She calculatingly drops into conversation tidbits of knowledge about subjects like Nietzsche and Piaf, topics tantalizingly exotic to Mona but nevertheless redolent of Tamsin’s know-it-all attitude and superior education. Quickly, the girls become inseparable and their affections turn sexual. Although the sex is handled casually as an extension of their mutual fascination, it is likely that the "teenage lesbian" angle is responsible for some degree of the movie’s critical success thus far. In this regard, My Summer of Love calls to mind other recent sapphically inclined coming-of-age films: i.e., Show Me Love, Lost and Delirious, The Dreamlife of Angels, and Heavenly Creatures. Although the tone of My Summer of Love is sunnier and more languorous than most of these examples, its mood turns dark at the end. Some viewers may see this inevitability coming, but it’s safe to say they’re probably not teenagers nor thinking like one. My Summer of Love shows us the throes of first love, with its attendant expectations of lasting forever and conquering all. This is good as far as it goes, but it still leaves us wondering what Pawlikowski’s take on all this is. The writer-director keeps any opinions he might have to himself, which can be frustrating to the viewer who wonders what to make of this summer idyll. Based on a novel by Helen Cross, the film supposedly whittles away several extenuating characters and subplots. Since it’s not clear what Pawlikowski wants to say in this film, the question of prurience lingers. Nevertheless, when compared with most of what passes for honest teen drama these days, My Summer of Love is a real reprieve.