One Summer When You Went Away
Jun 21, 2022
Chris Hopkin, JF Woodford
Laurence Ellerker, Laura Peterson, Kenneth Mguni, Angela Stone, Stan Haywood
A cliched and tonally inconsistent coming-of-age romance which you wouldn’t expect to need a content warning for sexual assault, but you do in fact need a content warning for sexual assault.
CW: Sexual Assault
Danny (Ellerker) is a young man. How young is unclear. He looks like he’s in his late twenties to me, but seems shaken by his mum leaving to go to Cyprus for a while. This abandonment is compensated for by the arrival of his meddling aunt Gas (Stone), as well as his friendship with Tre (Mguni) and budding romance with Izzy (Peterson).
Formally, the film has some great strengths. The busy opening montage includes some good close-ups which changing neon colours in a dark club. In between dialogue scenes, the transitions are often very playful and experimental. At the beach, water laps over rocks in a beautiful image, followed by a tracking shot of a bird through the sky. The cinematography becomes immediately stronger when away from its human subjects. The pub scene in particular features a really vibrant environment, with live music and candlelight that lends an authenticity otherwise missing from the film.
Danny first meets Izzy on the bus, watching her be verbally harassed by a group of boys. Amused by their embarrassing attempts to get her attention, they share a smile. She’s charmed by this interaction somehow, appealing to a male fantasy of getting attention from women by merely sitting silently and thus appearing respectable by contrast. Not all men will harass you on the bus! Some of them are sensitive artists with dreams of going to art school.
This dream of Danny’s is encouraged by his ageing grandfather (Haywood), seemingly the only person left in his family he can trust. We’re told repeatedly that Danny has talent, but are never actually shown his work. At least a glimpse could provide some context and encourage some belief in his ability to achieve his ambitions.
Danny and Izzy’s brief interaction is followed almost immediately by a secondary meet-cute. Izzy is working behind the bar at a pub where Danny meets Tre. They immediately begin flirting, which for her includes a manic pixie morosely kooky description of his death. While this is intended as alternative and charming, she comes across as a sociopathic creep, which is only the first instance of her character behaving like a robot programmed to adopt a new personality depending on the circumstances. She’s there to facilitate Danny’s belief in himself, while herself remaining a one-dimensional love interest.
She tells Danny “You’re the most interesting creative person I’ve met in my life and I’ve known you one day.” An insane thing to tell someone until you consider that maybe she has never met anyone before in her life, explaining both a lot of her behaviour and sudden interest in the reticent and quiet Danny.
Her support of him is delivered mostly through platitudes and jokes. They visit the beach together, and by the fire engage in some teenage philosophising over their respective existential theories. “What do you think it’s all about?” Danny asked her. “What, everything?” she responds, leading her into a theologically confused monologue on monadology which she didn’t even have the decency to get very high before delivering.
Another directly cliched element comes in Tre, the best friend who’s there to deliver expository narration, occasional levity, and general support for Danny. Similar to Izzy, he’s there to facilitate the lead character’s growth. The most significant moment he has is his abrupt departure with a man he met only seconds before at the beach. Asked by Izzy if he’s “a bit gay,” Danny says “no nothing like that.” Trey’s ambiguous sexuality clearly induces discomfort in them, and his implicitly dangerous promiscuity provides a juxtaposition against which their safe and comforting heterosexual courting is signalled as virtuous.
However, the most dangerous depiction of queerness comes from Danny’s aunt Gas. Her presence at first is merely a frustrating imposition, arriving without warning and staying indefinitely to criticise Danny in lots of little ways. But her irritating personality takes a much more sinister turn later. As Danny leaves to attend an art school interview, she stays to take care of an emotionally fragile Izzy. But she has more threatening intentions, pushing the conversation to sexual topics and invading her personal space. While Izzy collects her things to hurriedly try to escape, Gas locks the door. The implied rape is confirmed the next morning when Danny returns, seeing dried blood on the floor. The intense violence of this is a jarring shift in the story, turning Gas into an absurdly evil character. This moment is only another in a long line of articulations of queerness which necessitates lesbianism be framed as predatory. It’s also a shark jumping moment which is hard to come back from. Danny’s journey of learning to let go of a responsibility to hold his fragmented family together didn’t need such an extreme example of his relatives’ evil, and its violence only adds to an overall tonal inconsistency.