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4 reviews, 4 user ratings

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My Summer of Love
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by Peter Sobczynski

"One of the best coming-of-age stories in recent years"
5 stars

“My Summer Of Love” tells a love story involving two teenagers from opposite backgrounds and I suspect that a good number of you have probably already written it off in your minds. I can hardly blame you since most teen-oriented films today are bubble-brained exploitation comedies in which cars are crashed, parties are thrown, pastries are defiled, proms are attended and “ugly” ducklings are turned into beautiful swans with the simple removal of a pair of clunky eyeglasses. (On the flip-side, there are also equally exploitative, equally bubble-brained “shocking” exposes, such as “Kids” and “Thirteen,” which are generally funnier than the deliberate comedies.) Occasionally, a good and ambitious one comes along–films such as “Heathers,” “How to Deal” and the early John Hughes vehicles–but most are little more than live-action versions of the likes of “Tiger Beat” and are concerned with nothing more than separating gullible kids from their pocket money.

“My Summer of Love” is not one of those films by a long shot. Like “Heavenly Creatures,” “Show Me Love” and “Lost and Delirious” and the novel (certainly not the movie) “Endless Love,” it remembers exactly what it feels like to be a teenager in the throes of the emotional upheaval that is first love–both the intense elation at discovering that certain special and unique person and finding that they, unlike seemingly everyone else in the world, think that you are just as special and unique and the equally intense pain, rage and hurt that occurs when it inevitably turns out that the person in question is not your soulmate after all–that he or she is just an ordinary person and not the idealized image of perfection that you have built them up to be. And like those film mentioned above, it combines talented young performer and filmmakers who are able to expertly tap into those raw and painful emotions and transform them into a powerful and unforgettable film.

The film opens on Mona (Natalie Press), a lonely teen girl living a life of quiet desperation. She is trapped in a drab and isolated English town, her parents are dead and she is living with her recently paroled brother (Paddy Considine)–having discovered religion in prison, he has become a zealot, converted the family’s tavern into a spiritual meeting hall and is setting off on a crackpot plan to build and erect an enormous crucifix on the outskirts of town. For Mona, the quintessential outsider, there is seemingly no escape from this dead-end life–even the moped that she tools around on lacks an engine that would allow her the freedom to leave. She has nothing–no one to inspire her, no one to intrigue her and no one to tell her that she has the kind of unconventional beauty that will turn heads far more effectively in the long run than the kind of pretty that winds up on magazine covers.

Then, like in a fairy tale, a savior comes into town literally riding a fine steed and changes all of that. This is Tamsin (Emily Blunt), a rich girl who has been sent home from boarding school as the result of various misdeeds. The two instantly become inseparable friends–they bond over their boredom, their absent parents and the heartbreaking tragedies of their pasts (Tamsin’s sister, we learn, died hideously from an eating disorder) and Mona is stunned to discover that Tamsin seems as fascinated with her as she is with Tamsin. Tamsin restores Mona engine, figuratively and literally, and, not surprisingly, the love that dare not speak its name springs up between them and they wallow in it. Before long, they begin making plans to run off together and start a new life some place more exciting.

You probably think you can fill in the blanks from here. The girls will face disapproval from their families and the community. Mona’s brother will get all pious and cruelly mistreat his sister. A tragedy will occur that will cruelly separate the girls forever. You would be wrong because writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, working from the acclaimed novel by Helen Cross, is not interested in telling the kind of story that has been done. Instead, there are surprising twists and revelation to be had and the amazing thing is that none of them feel like gratuitous twists inserted by a clever screenwriter–instead, they are the kind of developments that work because they are consistent with the characters that Pawlikowski has given us the time to get to know. When all is revealed and everyone is left facing an uncertain future, it results in an ending with the kind of powerful impact that is all too rare in films these days.

I mentioned the titles “Heavenly Creatures,” “Show Me Love” and “Lost and Delirious” earlier and “My Summer of Love” has two things in common with them (aside from quality.) The first is that they are all films about teenagers that never feel the need to pander to an adolescent audience–there are no famous faces on display nor is there a soundtrack crammed with recent hit songs to both distract the film and instantly date it for future audiences. The second is that they all deal with budding lesbian relationships but aren’t particularly obsessed with them–Pawlikowski is more interested in exposing the emotions of his two lead characters rather than their genitals. This is not a story about people exploring their sexuality–instead, it is about the joy and agony of finding passion for someone for the first time, feelings that are, of course, the same for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

Pawlikowski also gets a lot of support from the contributions from the others involved with the film. The two performances from the relatively unknown Press and Blunt are extraordinary–although Blunt, with her character’s outgoing nature and surprising revelations, gets the flashier part, Press is just as strong as the quieter Mona and both are completely convincing playing confused and emotionally vulnerable kids. Considine is slightly better-known (he was the dad in “In America” and can be seen now as the drunken slob who makes Russell Crowe feel superior in “Cinderella Man”) and is just as strong in a part that sounds almost doomed to be a cliche–instead of making him a one-note hypocrite, he treats the born-again brother as someone who is genuinely trying to put his life back together but doesn’t realize that he has merely substituted alcohol with religion as his crutch of choice. (There is a deeply affecting moment when he slips back into a rage that is just as immediately followed by shame as he realizes that he hasn’t quite changed after all.) And while it isn’t the kind of thing likely to get noticed in a film like this, the cinematography by is also wonderful for the timeless quality that it evokes–there is nothing on display that dates the film and, as a result, it achieves the kind of universal tone that will allow it to play for audiences for decades to come with the same impact that it has now.

“My Summer of Love” is one of the best films of the year, a work that will deeply affect all who see it regardless of their age or sexuality. (Inevitably, even though it is the kind of film that is perfect for teenagers, the MPAA, in their wisdom, have slapped it with an “R” rating.) It is smart, funny, touching and painful, yet it treats both the characters and those watching them in the audience with the kind of respect that has become increasingly rare in films centered on adolescent behavior. By the time it comes to its surprising final scenes, we genuinely feels as if we know these characters and can even get a sense of how they will turn out. In the final shot, one of the girls wanders off by herself, alone and utterly devastated. However, from the last look she gives us, there is the sense that once the pain and humiliation fades, the events that she has undergone have changed her in a profound way and may set her off in a new and unanticipated direction–perhaps to write a book or movie not unlike this one.

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originally posted: 06/17/05 13:25:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/10/09 RHYS Good acting, scenary and Emily nude. Slow, cop out ending should have been much darker. 3 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold A quadruple-layered glorious chiller. 5 stars
9/18/05 roberta weisberg Too tragic to believe that such loneliness produces such self loathing. 3 stars
8/24/05 thejames people only like this because of the lesbian scenes. 3 stars
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  17-Jun-2005 (R)
  DVD: 04-Oct-2005



Directed by
  Paul Pavlikovsky

Written by
  Paul Pavlikovsky

  Nathalie Press
  Emily Blunt
  Paddy Considine
  Dean Andrews

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