Swoony, sexy, ethereal and finally, toxic, My Summer of Love is a film with a darkness that’s heightened not my shadows, but by beautiful, unsettling light. Part Heavenly Creatures part Three Women part Polanski-tome but an animal all its own, the picture is a coming-of-age tale that eschews the typical traps of that genre by making the friendship and really, love affair between two precocious female adolescents into something powerfully obscure.
Young, intriguing women can be viewed as odd birds, no matter how acceptably “wacky” cinema attempts to paint them. We see movies like Mean Girls, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or even, Thirteen, and are left with impressions that may ring true for certain aspects of the teen population, but remain utterly lame for others. In My Summer of Love, issues like “bonding” and “friendship,” “mean girls” and “rebellion” aren’t phrases these beguiling leads would even bother to utter. Those are totally predicable aspects to a life they’re attempting to escape.
The entrancing young leads are Mona (Natalie Press) a freckled, somewhat awkward but smart and spontaneous blonde with hints of a young Sissy Spacek to her. More robust and working class, she lives with her reformed-ex-con now Jesus Freak brother Phil (Paddy Considine) above a pub/church meeting space. A lonely girl, she’s having a rather sick, unfulfilling sexual relationship with a married man much older than her (he nails her in his car then leaves her on the side of the road) and in all likelihood, yearns for a friend.
She meets that friend on a hot day after taking a spill from her pathetic little scooter without a motor that she pedals like a heavy bike. Staring up at the beautiful, brunette, patrician Tasmin (Emily Blunt) a white horse no less, the intellectual Tasmin essentially “saves” Mona by welcoming her into the upper crust world of her family's ivy-covered mansion. One of those rich girls who’s parents pay her no attention, leaving her alone in the castle, she spends her days playing cello (Saint-Saen’s melancholy “The Swan” which also serves as the name of Mona’s brother’s pub), trying on various expensive clothes, teaching Mona of Nietzsche and confessing the drama of her dead sister—from the tragic, but teenage glamorous disease of anorexia.
The girls eventually become lovers, indulging not only in their sexual longings, but spending a good deal of time playing head games with others. Particularly Phil who harbors a palatable attraction for Tasmin that comes off, for lack of a better term, incredibly hot. In one scene Phil walks up to the two girls while they sunbathe during which a topless Tasmin looks over at him with the most blasé yet unnervingly attractive expression—as if to say, yes, I’m young and gorgeous, what’s the big deal? What later happens between them is unexpected and in its own different way—shocking.
The situation with Phil brings out some personality quirks in all the characters, toppling down the two best friend’s center of the universe stance on life while revealing the extra cruelty and deceit to come later. In deceivingly simplistic terms, you’ll see how utterly complex and inscrutable girl/love/friendship can be and how simultaneously fake and utterly genuine this type of “female bonding” can manifest.
Which is writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski’s stroke of near genius—how did he pick this up? How does he understand girls so well? Filming with a style that’s both picaresque and rough—like a Dogme film done by photographer David Hamilton— he lingers on young limbs lying in the sun, wonderfully conveying the power of youth but spiking it with a touch of evil that’s erotically creepy. And the performances are so strong and at times, funny, never once do you feel exploitation or pandering or silliness—its as if these actress’ are controlling the film’s frames with pure guile. By the end of the film you feel like Mona's Jesus-freak brother--these girls really could lead you to Satan.
"My Summer of Love" opens today, June 17.