Friday, December 30, 2011

Movie Review: My Summer of Love

The movie My Summer of Love had me at cello.


When I perused Netflix one night a few years go, martini in hand, my first thought was "What is this weird movie? 'Gay and lesbian with a strong female lead? I suppose I'll give it a whirl."

Again, I don't have high expectations whenever I start watching such movies. But, as it turns out, this "weird movie" I had started was actually quite a hit across the pond, and (according to ever-reliable Wikipedia) was "met with almost universal acclaim."

The movie also includes Emily Blunt. Playing a cello.

In general, the movie is rather dark and, as such, can be difficult to watch at times. As a viewer, I identified with the character Mona (played by Natalie Press), who is a teenager (17, 18? their exact ages are unclear) who comes from a lower-class background and whose only living relative is her brother, who is a recently-released criminal who was "born again" in prison.

Apparently, Mona is in a crappy relationship with a man who seems to be much older than her. Thus, early on in the movie (like other lesbian movies), we are treated to a scene of the female lead "about to embark on a lifestyle change" having unsatisfying, unenjoyable sex with her male partner. Naturally, I then began anticipating the contrasting Soft And Sensuous Sapphic Love Scene that was sure to eventually follow (which, spoiler alert!, happened after the aforementioned cello scene).

Mona's life, in general, seems difficult, as evidenced by her weird brother, her crappy sex life, and the crummy house she lives in. Her demeanor, perhaps explained by her circumstances, is guarded and somewhat hopeless.

Mona is contrasted with Tamsin (played by Emily Blunt), the other "strong female lead," who comes from a wealthy family and who is mostly ignored by her parents. Despite having a privileged and pampered material existence, Tamsin's demeanor is mostly bored and emotionally flat.

Both characters seem to crave real human connection with others. So, when Mona and Tamsin meet, they seem to provide what the other lacks. As they spend their days smoking, drinking, and bonding, Mona seems to gain confidence and starts thinking that maybe life isn't so bad when you have someone cool to share it with.

Mona is a simple character- and I don't mean that in a bad way- she was just much easier to read than Tamsin. She had a difficult life and didn't see a reason to be deceptive just for entertainment's sake. When Tamsin entered her life by chance, and the two became friends and then (spoiler alert? Come on, the title is My Summer of Love) lovers, Mona finally had a reason to be hopeful. In her reality, and because Tamsin expressed the same feelings, she and Tamsin were going to be together forever and she was going to be able to move out of her crummy house and get away from her creepy brother.

Tamsin seems to enjoy Mona's company as well, but (spoiler alert?) the movie reveals glimpses of how maybe Tamsin sees other people as props that exist mostly for her amusement.

For instance, one time, Mona and Tamsin were sunbathing, Tamsin was topless, and Mona's ex-convict brother happens upon them. When she sees him watching them, she, like, didn't even try to cover up her chest even though he was obviously uncomfortable/aroused. Later, Tamsin flirted with him even though she wasn't really interested in him, and when he finally tried to kiss her, she laughed in his face.

Tamsin in general is a quiet, stoic character, and into such characters it can be easy for people to project their own hopes and desires. With Tamsin, I didn't walk away knowing whether she was ever truly into Mona, or if she just saw Mona as summer entertainment. Like, maybe she was checking off "try being a lesbian this summer" from her list of things that might make her not be so bored with life?

In any event, I did enjoy this movie. It's still rare to see a movie that centers two young women, and who aren't spending most of their on-screen time together talking about men and boys. It also portrays a more gritty and lonely young adulthood experience that might appeal, as it did to me, to some who aren't really able to relate to Ya-Ya Sisterhood/Now and Then-type movies that are about (heteronormative) "girl bonding."

It would have been nice had it had a happy ending, because I'm always a sucker for a nice happy ending. But that it didn't (indeed, spoiler alert!, when Mona discovers Tamsin's deceptions, she pretends to drown Tamsin), seems true to the characters. Mona comes from a background where violence was used against her, and so for her to ultimately react violently is unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Furthermore, despite the sexual relationship between the two main characters, I wouldn't describe it as a "coming-out" story, or a "lesbian movie" for that matter. It's left ambiguous as to whether Mona and Tamsin are lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual.

Therefore, the problematic nature of their relationship cannot be attributed to the characters' sexual orientation. Rather, because Tamsin's deceptions seem to have been motivated by her privileged boredom with life and Mona's desperation for friendship motivated by her family and home life, the viewer is invited to view the dysfunctional relationship, and the dark ending, as a result of their individual personalities and class considerations. Likewise, with the respect to the pretend drowning incident, the movie steers away from Evil Lesbian Trope territory as well.

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