What is it about the mercurial emotional voltage of teenage girls that contains the potential for obsessive relationships? The deep need for closeness, the manic appetite for shared experience, for someone who cares or even simply notices, can result in the creation of private worlds that threaten to either explode or implode on very short notice.
Hollywood may pander to the teenage market, but it assiduously avoids troubling, compelling stories like these, stories about young people that adults would appreciate. Peter Jackson explored one in his incendiary 1994 "Heavenly Creatures," and now Polish-born British director Pawel Pawlikowski gives us another in the exceptional "My Summer of Love," a film as different from its Sandra Dee teensploitation title as its two protagonists are from each other.
Pawlikowski is an assured, intuitive writer-director who uses a system of controlled improvisation to examine out-of-control people that's reminiscent of Mike Leigh's celebrated technique. Starting from a novel by Helen Cross and a 37-page "shooting document" (as opposed to the standard 120-page script) and with two gifted, adventurous actresses, he has achieved wonders.
As his previous feature, 2001's memorable "Last Resort," demonstrated, Pawlikowski is a second-skin filmmaker, someone whose sensitivity to people enables him to truly get inside his characters' private worlds, to know them better than they sometimes know themselves.
When we first see Mona (Natalie Press), she's doggedly pushing a motor-less motorbike through the dreamy Yorkshire countryside. Her accent, once we hear it, pigeonholes her as working class, but she has a sharp, feral intelligence and a sense that there is more to be had from life than her usual diversion of furtive sex in cars with married men.
Suddenly, like an apparition in a dream, the inescapably posh Tamsin (Emily Blunt) appears riding a white horse. She's a bit older, a lot more assured and sophisticated, and she's been suspended from her boarding school for being a bad influence. She lives in a large manor and casually invites Mona to "drop by if you're bored."
Mona is always bored, but especially so now that her ex-con older brother Phil ("Last Resort" and "Cinderella Man's" Paddy Considine) has become born-again. He decides to turn his pub the Swan, where he lives upstairs with Mona, into a spiritual center to help bring the entire neighborhood to Jesus.
Tamsin and Mona are superficially different enough to be initially wary of each other but soon realize that, with their wicked senses of humor, their baby-faced nihilism and contempt for whatever anyone else takes seriously, they are made for each other.
More than that, they need each other in very real ways. Tamsin is a dreamer and fantasist, Mona a driven doer, and while the former is in need of an accomplice, the later is looking for an instigator to point her in satisfying directions. And, both having been let down by people they counted on, they share a yearning for the fantasy of all-consuming hothouse romance.
In fact, Mona and Tamsin turn out to be an incendiary combination, frustrated young women whose heedless lack of boundaries and willingness to try anything make them more dangerous together than they were apart. As their relationship deepens, as their notions of fantasy and reality get jumbled up, it's an open question who is in more danger of getting singed by this symbiotic bond.
Pawlikowski, who wrote the script in collaboration with playwright Michael Wynne, has the knack of getting his people to act dramatically, unexpectedly and always believably. He's created a most provocative love story, about two people who will never forget each other, but not for anything like the reasons they initially imagine.
'My Summer of Love'
MPAA rating: R for sexuality, language and some drug use.
Times guidelines: Some nudity and sexual activity.
A Focus Features release. Director Pawel Pawlikowski. Producers Tanya Seghatchian, Christopher Collins. Executive producers David M. Thompson, Chris Auty, Emma Hayter. Screenplay by Pawel Pawlikowski, in collaboration with Michael Wynne, based on the novel by Helen Cross. Director of photography Ryszard Lenczewski. Editor David Charap. Costume designer Julian Day. Music Alison Goldfrapp, Will Gregory. Production designer John Stevenson. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; Landmark's NuWilshire, 1314 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 281-8223; and Edwards South Coast Village 3, 1561 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 540-1970.