For many people - especially those fresh out of school and circumscribed by money or geography - summer is an aimless time defined by temp gigs, tenuous relationships and desperate attempts to relieve boredom. It's understandable that so many filmmakers tend to liven up their summer films with external conflict or improbably high stakes, if only because it's very difficult to dramatise the sheer tedium of youth. In 'Days of the Bagnold Summer', however, debuting director (and 'The Inbetweeners' star) Simon Bird depicts one of the more resonant, believable lazy summers of the past decade simply by focusing on idle moments too rarely captured on film. Much of the tale features people stuck in the day-to-day tedium of life, trying to entertain themselves by any means necessary. The results are often funny and touching.
Featuring a soundtrack by indie band Belle and Sebastian, 'Days of the Bagnold Summer' is based on the graphic novel by Joff Winterhart with a screenplay written by Lisa Owens. The story charts the wobbly relationship between cardigan-wearing, easily flustered single librarian Sue Bagnold (Monica Dolan, 'Pride') and her mopey metalhead teenage son Daniel (Earl Cave, 'True History of the Kelly Gang').
Daniel was meant to spend the summer in Florida visiting his dad, but is now stuck with his mum for six weeks following the trip's cancellation. Time passes and personality clashes occur. There are some side-stories, too. Daniel falls out with his posh best friend Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott) and becomes the lead singer of an unexpected band. Meanwhile, Sue enjoys a flirtation with Daniel's smooth-talking history teacher Douglas Porter (Rob Brydon, 'The Trip'), with a few nudges from her sister Carol (Alice Lowe, 'Sightseers'). Gradually, mother and son begin to help each other out of their respective holes of loneliness, self-isolation and depression.
I'm a sucker for dorky teen boy coming-of-age movies, but 'Days of the Bagnold Summer' isn't a crowd-pleasing collection of tried-and-true conventions and a healthy dose of nostalgia, à la 'The Way Way Back' or 'Adventureland'. There's no hyper-verbal oddball here, like 'Submarine' or 'Youth in Revolt'. It isn't ultra-depressing, either, like 'My Friend Dahmer' or 'Super Dark Times'. The film's 'Ghost World'-esque narrative compels on its own merits because Bird and his stars are committed to indirectly communicating universal feelings, like regret and the painful feeling of drifting apart from a close friend. Being a kid - especially a quiet one, teetering on the edge of teendom and caught between the homes of divorced parents - is often a gauntlet of humiliation. There are a few brief blow-ups, but most emotions are unspoken, conveyed instead by pointed glances or pregnant silences.
We like and dislike both son and mum at different points in the film - we understand their motivation, we can see why they clash and, more rarely, what draws them together.
Director of Photography Simon Tindall's cinematography is as crisp and symmetrical as the character interactions are sympathetic. We like and dislike both son and mum at different points in the film - we understand their motivation, we can see why they clash and, more rarely, what draws them together. Cave is sullen and barely verbal, but not just a sloped-shouldered, unsmiling cipher, while Dolan is a tiny bundle of startlement and rapid blinks. All of the disparate elements work and complement one another.
'Days of the Bagnold Summer' might be a little on the wispy side, short in length and focusing on small moments, but Simon Bird's film exposes its big heart while exploring the complex relationship between a mother and her son.