Emily Blunt topless in My Summer of Love
My review follows after the jump.
This film is kind of an interesting illustration of the gap between the kind of films loved by film "insiders" and the kind that people really want to see. My Summer of Love was a complete critical success in the USA, with 90% positive reviews, and an even more impressive 97% from the inner circle of top-level critics, as estimated by Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the spate of positive reviews scattered through the American newspapers and across the internet, it was seen by no more than 125,000 people. It wasn't a very different matter in Britain. My Summer of Love received the coveted BAFTA award as the best British film of 2004, but it could manage to gross no more than half a million pounds. Between the two nations, the film never played in as many as 100 theaters at the same time.
The reason I find this disparity interesting is that My Summer of Love does not fall within any of the categories of film you would imagine after having read the paragraph above.
It is not some kind of arty, aloof, or surrealistic film like Last Year at Marienbad or Eyes Wide Shut, the kind of film that critics love to extol as an example of how they possess insights not available to the rest of us. Of course, every specialty profession requires something to distinguish it from the laity, or the profession would not exist at all. Priests have their secret incantations, the ability to consecrate bread and wine, and the ability to forgive at confession. Heart surgeons have their skillful fingers and their knowledge of anatomy. Engineers have the mathematical and scientific knowledge that enables them to build a bridge from Italy to Sicily when the rest of us could not even begin to imagine how such a thing might be done. Movie critics - well, they ain't got jack. I won't trust you to operate on my heart, and I won't drive on a bridge you build, but for some reason, if I am allowed to ask you a couple of questions about a movie you saw, I will trust your judgment as much as Roger Ebert's. Given that fact, critics try to justify their positions with some body of "expertise" that enables them to see values which are not apparent to the rest of us. Unfortunately, that expertise is illusory, and they rarely seem to realize that these opinions place them in the position of the Naked Emperor, and not the High Priest. Pretty much anyone with common sense can see that critics are just bullshitting when they praise these arty films, and such opinions are dismissed off-hand. But My Summer of Love is not in this category. It has a straightforward narrative and is completely accessible.
Nor is it a leftist political diatribe, of the type that critics love because of the point of view, but audiences don't care about because they don't go to movies to hear somebody's point of view, right or left. When you get right down to it, moviegoers don't really mind if you're going to insert your viewpoint into a film - as long as you make it entertaining or moving or funny.
So what kind of movie is this? An intimate personal story.
A young working class girl in a small Yorkshire town feels the ennui setting into her life. School's out for summer and the best entertainment available is "riding" her scooter around the environs - a task made considerably less exciting by the fact that it has no motor, so it's only fun on the downhill stretches. She has no friends. She lives above a pub. Her parents are gone. Her brother is an ex-con turned religious zealot. The hours drag.
Then her life suddenly fills with an exciting new friendship. An urbane rich girl from a nearby estate is home from boarding school, and her own boredom leads her into a bond with the other girl. That bond eventually leads beyond friendship and into hot girl-on-girl action. They two of them seem to be so much in love that they are planning to run away together, and then ...
You'll have to watch the movie to get the rest, but I guess I can tell you that the movie's title is a complete spoiler. It is called MY Summer of Love, not OUR Summer of Love, and the obvious limitation imposed by the word "summer" means that autumn just ain't gonna work out so well. You'll see. Besides, first love always hurts, doesn't it?
One of the more interesting undercurrents in the film is the lingering residue of feudalism in Europe. There was a time when the vassals of the continent were actually the property of the rich, and would be used for their amusement. It would certainly not have been uncommon in those days for a young aristocrat to romance any number of pretty serf girls, perhaps even stringing them along with promises of a better life. Even after feudalism disintegrated, European society was still contaminated with a virus of aristocrats who felt that peasants existed solely for the comfort and amusement of their betters. (Read about the Marquis de Sade to experience an extremely radical strain of this virus.) Part of the premise of this film is that the latter-day aristocracy has not changed as much as we would like to believe.
This script has some subtly-developed characterization, and even a few interesting plot twists here and there. I was impressed with the cinematography, which bathes summer in a soft amber glow, then strips away the soft make-up to photograph people and places in the harsh tones of reality when autumn arrives. It's easy to see why critics were impressed by My Summer of Love, and this is the sort of movie that many people would enjoy if they happened to catch it at a friend's house or watched it on cable in an intimate group or alone. Unfortunately, it is not the kind of film that many people will go out of their way to see, and it it not the kind of film you should watch with a raucous group or as a backdrop to some other activity, because it requires you to get deep inside of the girls' lives.
I'm in the same boat that most of you would be in. I'd never get off my duff to watch this kind of deliberately crafted movie unless I had no choice, but once I was inside of it, and focused on it, I liked it. That is the nature of the industry, and a reflection of the inherently small market for this kind of quiet, understated story.