Though My Summer of Love may seem like the title of either a junior high school report or a Sixties memoir, it is, in fact, the latest from acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski (Last Resort). Regardless, it includes all the experimentation, cultish religious ecstasy, adolescent awkwardness, and malaise the first two assumptions would suggest. The difference is it's tied together with a visually engaging bow by a writer/director who only seems to be getting stronger.
Mona (Nathalie Press) is a disaffected teen living in the English countryside. Feeling alienated from her ex-con born-again brother Phil (Paddy Considine) who's turned their family bar into a makeshift church, she strikes up a friendship with Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a boarding school student at home for the summer. Tamsin, too, has some grief in her life. Her unfaithful father never gives her the time of day, and she has yet to get over the death of her sister. Tamsin and Mona's combined disillusionment and loneliness slowly turns to affection, and the two begin a passionate affair.
Not surprisingly, Phil is wary of the interest Mona seems to be taking in this new, albeit attractive, young woman, and his efforts to "save" his sister escalate until all three characters reach decisive breaking points.
Several elements help keep the film from slipping into mawkish melodrama on the one hand or soft-core exploitation of the Skinemax variety on the other, not the least of which are the strong performances of everyone involved. Blunt is intriguing as Tamsin, conveying her almost effortless seduction of Mona with sincerity. Considine, who between this, In America, and Cinderella Man seems destined to play "tortured," turns in a fine performance. Here he conveys the desperation of a man whose redemption seems to be slipping away.
But the revelation here is Press. Her Mona is at once a cliché (the woe-is-me teen) and, in her capable hands, a flesh-and-blood human being with complex emotions and fumbling motivations.
Aiding her and her cohorts is a tight script by Pawlikowski and co-writer Michael Wynne, based on the novel by Helen Cross, which gives the characters enough room to breathe without slowing down the plot.
The cinematography, by Ryszard Lenczewksi and David Scott, lends a naturalistic feel to the proceedings, as if this all happens in a nostalgic red and amber haze. Though shot on film, the look is grainy and almost resembles digital video. This actually benefits the film by adding to the almost documentary-level intimacy the camera achieves.
Presiding over all of this is Pawlikowski, displaying a painterly touch in his use of both the camera and the actors. Building a motif around the eye (the first image we see in the film, drawn by Mona), he evokes the idea that we see what we want to see, a notion that comes back to haunt each of the characters in different ways.
One drawback of the film's tight 86-minute running time is that we never get a good look at the demons haunting Phil who, though really only a supporting character, seems to be hiding a wealth of dysfunction only hinted at in Considine's performance. On the other hand, the impressionistic feel of the film lends itself to leaving some elements to our imagination.
Though laced with plenty of eroticism and emotional turmoil, My Summer of Love is ultimately about the irony of its title, as everyone in the film has their own idea of what love is, and sadly for our heroine, none of them coincide.
Got their motors running.