My Summer of Love
One theme that has been a perennial favorite in literature and films is the coming of age story, that often painful transition from childhood to being an adult that all of us go through in out lives. Among the many problems a young person must face is religion, deciding for themselves what to believe, and with the onset of hormonal changes, defining their sexuality. With more modern freedom tales like this can, and often do, include romance between members of the same gender. While some flicks take this theme on the more puerile path My Summer of Love remains an emotional, tender look at teenaged love and discovery. Mona (Natalie Press) comes from a middle class background living in Yorkshire, a rather small town. She lives with her brother Phil (Paddy Considine), recently released from prison. Phil, like many ex cons, has discovered a spiritual side to life ad plans on converting the pub he inherited from their parents into a prayer center, an attempt to atone for his criminal, violent past. Mona’s only escape from what is going on is to take her little Honda bike, one without an engine, out to a place of solitude and reflection. While lying on the ground one day Mona meets Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a teen that is full of confidence, very attractive and astride a horse, obviously better off financially than Mona. Tamsin is not officially from a broken home but she might as well be. Her mother is usually off pursuing her acting career while her father is busy having an affair with his secretary. The two girls become fast friends, going off to drink wine and talk together. One faithful day in Mona’s favorite location, a mountain pond, the two kiss and life for Mona changes forever. While Tamsin tries to come off as more cerebral, speaking of great minds such as Nietzsche and Freud and the music of Edith Piaf, Mona is more physically inclined, speaking about her recent affair with a married man. As they become more involved with each other they distance themselves from the rest of the world, pulling away from everything but their own relationship. This is disrupted as Tamsin begins to notice Phil and Mona becomes infatuated with the stories Tamsin tells of her sister Saddie who succumbed to anorexia. When the girls allow their romance to become general knowledge they have to face the disapproval of the town and more specifically, Phil.
This is a film that is successful because of the way it juxtaposes the characters. Mona feels that in some way Phil has betrayed her by turning the family pub into a religious center. Mona is facing a future she is sure includes getting married, fat and caring for a number of children. She needs something to hold on to and the familiarity of the pub is something she is reticent to give up. Having just ‘found God’ and being released from prison Phil sees his responsibilities to the Lord instead of any worldly relationship. He is drive not so much by actual religious fervor but by a need to find someway to live with his own guilty over the violence of his past. Mona seems to enjoy goading her brother with her new found knowledge of Nietzsche using the phrase ‘God is dead’ like a weapon. There is also a striking contrast between the two girls. Mona, like some many literary small town girls, is one that enjoys physical pleasure. It is not so much for the sex but for something to break the mundane life she has been given. Tamsin on the other hand lives more in her own head. She is well read but lacks the experience of her new friend. While Mona is sure of the doomed life ahead of her, Tamsin is floating through, having been expelled from one fancy school after another. Each girl sees something in the other that can be admired and this is the basis initiall for their friendship and later for their love affair.
This film has a delightfully talented cast. Natalie Press never plays Mona as a victim; she has an internal strength that finally manages to surface by the end of the film. She has a natural gift for drawing the audience in emotionally, allowing us to identify with her character even if it is outside the realm of our personal experiences. While this is a feat for more seasoned actresses in one of such young years it is amazing to watch. Emily Blunt displays great control over her performance. In so many films we have seen the spoiled rich girl and usually the reaction of the audience is to hate her. Here, Blunt allows her character to be empathetic. She portrays Tamsin as a girl that wants everyone to think she is worldly but actually is confused and uncertain about life and love. Together the girls have a wonderful chemistry; they show a growing love that is not based just on being the same gender but instead two lonely people reaching out for some form of acceptance. Paddy Considine does not go down the usual road found in Hollywood of the religious zealot. He plays Phil as a man who is not certain how to repent for his heinous actions. While his prison term paid his debt to society he now must make it right with God. He feels that he can not move on until this debt is resolved. Control is the key word for this cast. They each have the talent and good sense not to over play their roles, instead letting the story unfold on its own.
Pawel Pawlikowski is brilliant in his direction of this film. While the story line resembles such films as ‘Lost And Delirious’ it takes a gentler, more laid back approach. Pawlikowski has a real eye for setting a scene, every one is like a painting, beautiful in its own right. He uses sunlight like I have never seen before; it is almost a tangible part of the film instead of just setting the mood. He paces the film perfectly for one set in summer; there is a flow that carries the audience along, like drifting down a stream. Pawlikowski never takes the easy way out of the physical and emotional themes. While this film concerns a lesbian relationship it is more about love and discovery than anything else.
Universal has done an excellent job with bringing this little gem to DVD. While many smaller films get the plain vanilla release, Universal has paid attention to the details here. The video is in 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The color palette is fabulous, bright, natural and crisp. The video is presented in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS, something almost unheard of for a smaller film. Both audio tracks provide a rich sound field although the DTS makes better use of the rear speakers. There is a commentary track by Pawlikowski where he goes into detail about the decisions he faced during the production. While not for everyone this is a worthwhile and entertaining film that gives a sensitive portrayal of two young women at a cusp in their lives.