“My Summer of Love” easily could have been made during THE summer of love.
This intimate tale of female friendship, told through hand-held camerawork and soft, natural lighting, is reminiscent of a time during the late ’60s and early ’70s when making movies about people and relationships — without needless dialogue and action — was paramount.
But the intensity of the unlikely bond that forms between teenagers Mona (Natalie Press, whose freckled, innocent looks recall a “Carrie”-era Sissy Spacek) and Tamsin (the beautiful, blue-eyed Emily Blunt) feels immediate and relevant now. Even more compelling is the fact that this is the first film for these actresses, both of whom give performances that exude such confidence and realism, you’d swear at times that you’re watching a documentary.
Director Pawel Pawlikowski, who also wrote the script based on Helen Cross’ novel of the same name, seems to grasp the ways in which girls’ friendships at this age can buzz with the excitement and emotional interdependency of a love affair. (Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen” captured this phenomenon, as well, albeit as a cautionary tale.)
Mona and Tamsin take it even further, though, and they do fall in love — which could have been gratuitously titillating, but in Pawlikowski’s hands feels appropriate, as the girls explore each other while fumbling to understand themselves at a time of flux.
When they meet in the sun-scorched countryside of Yorkshire, England, they already know they’re complete opposites. Mona lives above a pub with her older brother (“In America” star Paddy Considine, completely great in everything), who has found the Lord post-prison and is turning the bar into a place of worship and “born-again Bingo” parlor. She dresses and speaks in a hard, slangy way that suggests there’s not much more available to her in terms of mental stimulus.
Enter Tamsin, who literally rides up to Mona on a white horse, invites her over to her ivy-covered estate and announces she’s been suspended from boarding school.
“Apparently I’m a bad influence on people,” she declares flippantly, which we’ll learn is an immense understatement.
Tamsin quotes Nietzsche and plays Edith Piaf records for Mona. They spend their afternoons conspiratorially smoking cigarettes and drinking red wine on the tennis court before moving on to make-out sessions and magic mushrooms.
But Tamsin herself is intoxicating to Mona, and before the summer is over the two girls are declaring their undying love by the light of a campfire — and threatening to kill each other if either of them leaves, among the initial signs that this giddy relationship is going to turn ugly.
Until then, everything about their summer together is completely believable, and a joy to watch unfurl. (Press and Blunt have an easy, effervescent chemistry together that bodes well for both actresses; if this is what each is capable of in her first movie, the possibilities are mind-boggling.)
Mona’s mother is dead and her father’s whereabouts are unknown, and the brother she thought she knew has turned into a Bible-thumping stranger. Tamsin’s father is absent and adulterous, her mother constantly on tour as an actress; her older sister died of anorexia.
Each girl fulfills many needs and plays many roles for the other, and they found each other at just the right moment — which makes the ending so tragic, and yet for Mona, unexpectedly empowering at the same time.