Mona (newcomer Nathalie Press, resembling Toni Collette crossed with Sissy Spacek) takes her motorless scooter out into the Yorkshire countryside to get away from her born again brother Phil (Paddy Considine, "Cinderella Man," "Last Resort"), who's turning their pub into a revival meeting. While resting in a field, Mona looks up and sees the rear end of a horse. Equestrian Tamsin (newcomer Emily Blunt who looks like Robin Tunney by way of Natascha McElhone) is a bored posh type who's been kicked out of boarding school and is trying to fill her time at her family's old money estate. Phil's religious fanaticism and the exotic Tamsin are the two extremes which will shape Mona's "My Summer of Love."
Director Pawel Pawlikowski, whose last film, "Last Resort," was a minor revelation (as well as Paddy Considine's first starring role), has chosen to adapt a novel (by Helen Cross) which demands comparison to "Heavenly Creatures," Peter Jackson's better film from 1994. Everything about "My Summer of Love," from the privileged, sophisticated beauty/lower class not-so-ugly duckling pairing to the obsessive behavior projected in wild dancing, seances, bathtub dalliances and parental hatred, seems to have its blueprint in Jackson's film. "Heavenly Creatures" spiralled into a climatic, hysterical matricide. "My Summer of Love" instead resurrects one of its dead. Still, Pawlikowski's summertime gothic has its own merits when one isn't absorbed ticking off similarities.
'No one fancies me,' wails a depressed Mona, who's just been unceremoniously dumped by her married lover Ricky (Dean Andrews, "The Navigators"). Tamsin's open ended invitation to come visit lingers in the air with the subtlest urgency and soon Mona's gathered the courage to pass through the great old stone gates of the sprawling property. Uncommon veracity about family tragedies - Mona's ex-con brother and mother dead of cancer, Tamsin's hated father and sister lost to anorexia - form an immediate pact between the two girls, who are soon getting drunk on good wines and vandalizing Tamsin's dad's Jaguar. Tamsin seems as jazzed by Mona's working class roots ('I'll get a job in an abattoir, work real hard, get a bastard of a boyfriend, have kids then wait for menopause...or cancer' says Mona in bad girl seductress mode) as Mona is dazzled by Tamsin's worldliness ('Have you read Nietzsche? or Freud?'). The girls treat Tamsin's deceased sibling Sadie as a patron saint (much like Mario Lanza in "Heavenly Creatures"), but Tamsin sets out to unmask Mona's living brother as a fallen one, and this adulterous act will begin their undoing.
Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt's debuts rank right up there with "Creatures'" Melanie Lynskey (so underrated in her costar's shadow and since reduced to a supporting role on TV's "Two and a Half Men") and Kate Winslet. Press has Spacek's translucent quality, albeit presented with a rougher edge. The camera loves her mercurial visage. Blunt gives a more shielded performance, bred of an upper class upbringing of cooler emotional tones. She is most delighted by her bad behavior until stepping over the line reins her back in. Considine makes Phil a determined do-gooder with just the barest hint of hesitation. The character is yanked too easily back into his old habits by the story. (Ironically the filmmakers seems to miss the fact that this is just what Mona wished for.)
Visually (cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski, "Last Resort," production design by John Stevenson and art direction by Netty Chapman), Pawlikowski's film is like the flip side to "Last Resort," with shimmering golden hues replacing cool, misty pastels and old English dwellings versus tacky modern apartment units. Suggestive imagery is beautifully conveyed, from the cigarette plumes wafting above the heather which hides its smokers to Tamsin's face framed by leaded glass reflecting leaves upon her face like some woodland nymph's. Julian Day's ("Last Resort") costume design articulates both the gossamer creations of fairy tale dress up and the blue collar, hoop earringed, t-shirt ensembles Tamsin adopts from Mona. Original music by Alison Goldfrapp & Will Gregory ("Swept Away") taps into gothic horror, 60's dulcimer and whistling for an otherworldly score.
"My Summer of Love" is a plunge into infatuation, but the immersion leaves its characters on the same ground on which they started. It's a slight sophomore slump for Pawlikowski but a sizzling setting for its freshmen stars.
Mona (Nathalie Press) just bought a moped, minus an engine, but for 10 pounds, a real bargain. She lives with her brother, Phil (Paddy Considine), who shut down his pub when he found Jesus, and is wiling away her time on the Yorkshire moors when she meets rich, beautiful Tamsin (Emily Blunt). The two young women could not be more different but, as they say, opposites attract in “My Summer of Love.”
I was impressed when I saw Paul Pavlikovsky’s previous work, “Last Resort (2000),” about a different kind of refugee camp on the coast of England. It was a charming, hopeful little work and gave me cause to look forward to “My Summer of Love,” especially since it has the likable Paddy Considine in a lead role. To my surprise, the writer/director, adapting the Helen Cross novel, comes up with a work that smacks of Peter Jackson’s far superior “Heavenly Creatures,” but without the angst, tension or fantasy elements.
My Summer of Love” is a coming of age film with Mona wanting things as they were before. Phil, a convicted thief who served his time, has decided to give up the tavern business for God and pours all of the pub’s assets down the drain. The new Phil is all loving and forgiving and praises Jesus but Mona wants the old Phil back, even if he was surly and quick-tempered. When Tamsin comes into the picture, Mona sees her as a means of getting away from her bible-thumping brother.
The problem I have with “My Summer of Love” is there is nothing compelling about it that attracts me. Natalie Press, as Mona, is the more likable of the two girls with her down to earth what-you-see-is-what-you-get demeanor and realistic view of life. At one point she maps out her future in an amusing, if sad and negative, way: work in an abattoir, have a jerk husband, crank out kids, wait for menopause, die of cancer.
Emily Blunt plays Tamsin as a selfish young woman who sees herself as a bohemian but is nothing more than a spoiled rich kid. The character is two dimensional, a chronic liar and cares for no one but Tamsin. Why Mona would even bother with this obviously shallow girl is one of the things I question in the film.
We meet Phil as he is pouring the life’s blood of his pub, its booze, down the drain. We are presented with an impassioned man who appears to have found Jesus but his old self is never far below the surface. I loved Paddy Considine in “Last Resort” and enjoyed his hard working father in “In America” but I think the actor is left flat in “My Summer…” by the story and character.
There isn’t enough story to sustain the film and only Mona has the feel of a real person. While watching “My Summer of Love” I kept comparing it to Jackson’s superior, similarly themed flick. I think I’d rather go back and watch “Heavenly Creatures” again. I give My Summer…” a C.
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