When Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt meet in the first scene of My Summer Of Love, they're taking breaks from journeys that lead in opposite directions. Press, on her way back to the pub-top home she shares with her born-again ex-con brother (Paddy Considine), has stopped off on the side of the road. She rides a £10 moped with no engine. Blunt rides a well-groomed horse that no doubt cost the equivalent of several dozen mopeds. She's on her way to the top of a hill to spend a summer break from college in the expansive Yorkshire estate she shares with a usually absent father.
My Summer Of Love unfolds over a season that plays like a long, tangled extension of that first meeting. The two teenagers strike up a friendship that turns complicated, and not only because of its sexual component. In fact, that aspect almost feels like an afterthought, another way to forget the absences that haunt their conversations. Press misses her dead mother and hates a married ex-boyfriend who now wants nothing to do with her. Blunt speaks angrily of her philandering father and tearfully of a sister she lost to anorexia. In the reflective moments between their giddy bike rides and drunken strolls, they seem happy that they found each other, but there's more at work here, and it's revealed when director Pawel Pawlikowski (Last Resort) slowly, deliberately pulls back to find the bitterness waiting beneath the sunny title.
Pawlikowski's off-balance compositions and affection for odd close-ups suggest the influence of Wong Kar-Wai, but the film's low-key observational spirit owes as much to Mike Leigh. Press and Blunt carry much of the load, inhabiting their characters and letting their defenses crumble as their relationship brings them closer together. Blunt eventually stops making clumsy references to Nietzsche and drops her habit of looking as if she's always posing for an Ingres painting; Press stops using girlish naïveté as a shield. They're best friends, and Pawlikowski takes the time to explore what that means, digging into the passions and petty jealousies that such an intense relationship creates. Meanwhile, Considine stalks the sidelines, keeping an eye on Blunt's sinful, possibly demonic ways in the interest of saving his sister from damnation.
And even where his reasoning is flawed and his self-righteousness misplaced, Considine may be on to something. With great care and disarming evenhandedness, Pawlikowski eases into some revelations about the freedoms of youth, the harm that can be done in the spirit of that freedom, and the escape hatch of wealth. But he also makes time for the upside of innocence lost in the film's unexpected moments, showing how the people who hurt us can sometimes make us stronger—a lesson from Nietzsche that only one of the film's characters carries off at the end.