Nathalie Press as Mona
Emily Blunt as Tamsin
Paddy Considine as Phil
Dean Andrews as Ricky
Paul Antony-Barber as Tamsin’s Father
Lynette Edwards as Tamsin’s Mother
Kathryn Sumner as Sadie
There isn’t much of a plot to this rather contrived and unfulfilling character study, although the exceptional performances by all three actors sometimes makes up for it.
Living in a small rural area in England, Mona (Nathalie Press) is a poor working class girl dealing with her Born-Again brother (Paddy Considine) and his newfound faith. When she meets Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a rich and well-educated girl of the same age, they become fast friends and a budding romance between the two develops.
Mike Leigh may have cornered the market on British character drama, but Pawel Pawlikowski tries to follow in his footsteps for his second film. He’s already figured out the key to Leigh’s success in that you can’t make a good drama without good actors. In this case, Pawlikowski went for broke, finding two unknown newcomers in Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt, who are both stretched to the limit both emotionally and dramatically for their feature film debuts.
Press plays Mona, a troubled young girl who has problems finding the right guy–her most recent boyfriend breaks up with her only after they had sex–but she’s more worried about her brother Phil, who found Christ after getting out of jail and is in the process of turning the pub he runs into a meeting place for fellow Born-Agains. When Tamsin shows up, she’s like a breath of fresh air. Beautiful and educated, Tamsin quickly makes Mona her own personal Pygmalian. She gives Mona some strength and makes her feel special with her attention as they spend all their time together. The new friends also do everything they can to try to get Phil to crack and turn his back on his faith, as Tamsin offers him further temptation by sunbathing topless in his presence.
Certainly, the relationship between these three individuals makes for an interesting character study, especially since it’s a bit vague where and when the story takes place, and the indeterminate age of the two girls does make their relationship more provocative. Still, not much happens over the first hour of the movie, which essentially follows the two girls as they drink, talk, do drugs, talk, cause trouble, talk and then make out. The stuff in between the talking isn’t enough to keep the movie from drudging along at a snail’s pace. It doesn’t help that two of the three main characters are obvious phonies, so you can only empathize with Mona.
Apparently, lesbians are hot these days, as movies like D.E.B.S. to Saving Face have proven that two young women can’t be friends without exploring their sexuality together. While this aspect of the story offers some sexy semi-softcore moments, lesbianism has become such an obvious plot device that you have to wonder about the filmmaker’s motivations. (As a lesbian, Saving Face director Alice Wu gave her film a much more honest perspective.) The amount of gratuitous nudity and sex could certainly make this a turn-off for a potential audience of young women experiencing similar growing pains.
You also to wonder what Pawlikowski was trying to say about Born-Again Christians, because it’s not handled in a very clear way either. Unlike a movie like Saved!, there seems to be little irony or humor in the way Phil is mocked for his decision to pursue religion. Mona is particularly abusive towards him, pretending that her recent actions are due to her being possessed by the devil.
For the most part, you know where the movie is going, because Pawlikowski is not subtle with his foreshadowing, which pretty much gives everything away. From the moment Tamsin meets Phil, you know that she will try to seduce him and that it will create a conflict between her and Mona. Sure enough, the whole thing builds up to the expected confrontation between the three, and it’s disappointing that there really aren’t too many surprises until the last few minutes.
On the plus side, the film is a great showcase for three exceptional actors. Paddy Considine, who was sorely overlooked in favor of his costars for his performance in Jim Sheridan’s In America, is just as good at playing a man battling his own inner demons, while dealing with a sister who has strayed from the flock. It’s doubtful that anyone will realize that this is the first film for both Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt, as they’re both quite talented as actresses. They’re also both extremely photogenic and gorgeous enough to keep you glued to the screen. Blunt is particularly stunning, a striking vision of beauty who shows off enough of her body throughout the movie to insure a rabid amount of male fans.
Even if one were to accept the film’s loose premise or enjoy the performances, it’s still a rather poorly executed film. Like many low-budget dramas, Pawlikowski uses a lot of shaky handheld camerawork and oversaturated colors to try to make up for the lack of plot, many of the same problems as last year’s Britdrama Intermission, which would be no surprise was shot by the same cinematographer. At least, the gorgeous ambient jazz soundtrack by the group Goldfrapp does help elevate the film above its poor production values. Compared to Rebecca Miller’s recent isolated coming-of-age film The Ballad of Jack and Rose, this is a disappointing effort, because you know that the subject matter would have been handled better in the hands of a more capable filmmaker.
My Summer of Love opens this weekend in select cities.