Watching My Summer of Love, a mood-swinging idyll set in West Yorkshire, England, you may laugh out loud when Tamsin, the dark upper-crust beauty who enthralls working-class gal Mona, tells her she would like Nietzsche, and then quickly adds Freud. The writer-director, Pawel Pawlikowski, displays a good ear for the intellectual name-dropping common in early adulthood; he also boasts a precise sense of rank-pulling in relationships. You hope that he won't leave satire far behind - but he does.
The tale of how Tamsin (Emily Blunt) and Mona (Natalie Press) begin a lesbian relationship that means vastly different things to each of them is like a finely wrought cameo mounted on an enormous museum wall. It doesn't have enough weight, whether in conflict or revelation, to sustain the time and space Pawlikowski allots to it.
You see all too clearly what Mona gets out of their bond: Lovemaking a lot more tender than what she's used to from men, entree to a world of culture and sophistication, escape from the influence of her born-again, ex-con brother Phil (Paddy Considine). And you see early on what Tamsin derives from it, too. Mona is more of a doer than a thinker. Tamsin's dad has kept busy philandering with his executive assistant; when Tamsin takes her new friend to the secretary's house, and they see his car parked outside, Mona smashes the driver's seat window.
But all Pawlikowski does is orchestrate these premises, not develop or deepen them; the movie is like a symphonic poem with a limited set of rhythms and tones.
Considine's Phil provides the film with its boldest image when he creates a huge cross in sections and persuades his Christian prayer group to lug it up a hill and plant it on a site overlooking his village. A sensational actor when he has anything to work with (as he proved in Jim Sheridan's In America), Considine gives Phil a fluent conviction that flirts with glibness; you keep guessing at the extent of his conversion.
Unfortunately, Phil becomes little more than a foil for the two heroines. Pawlikowski's heart may be with Mona, but his art is closer to Tamsin. He luxuriates in his sensibility without delivering a movie that pays off in originality or insight.
My Summer of Love
Starring Natalie Press, Emily Blunt and Paddy Considine
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Released by Focus
Rated R (sexuality, language and some drug use)
Time 87 minutes
SUN SCORE * * 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)