Review of “Bagnold’s Summer Days”: Mother and son clash

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There’s not a lot going on in the underrated British comedy “Bagnold’s Summer Days,” and that’s exactly the point. It is a true and sometimes touching piece of life (and cake) elevated by vivid main performances.

Daniel Bagnold (Earl Cave), 15, is supposed to spend the summer with his father’s new family in America, but when those plans break down, he sulks, finding himself stuck with his mother Sue (Monica Dolan) in their English suburb. A wannabe rocker with greasy hair, a Metallica shirt, and the pale skin of a cave dweller is a picture of an angry teenager who, instead of facing his feelings of rejection and insecurity, finds nothing fun and can’t rest his mom. As the song says, he is “the only person who is absolutely certain that there is nothing to be interested in here.”

Middle-aged Sue is a nervous librarian who just tries to do her best with a child who can be a real tool and an ex who can’t connect regularly with her son or send support checks I can buy yourself a sports car. As summer progresses, their days bring small tragedies and chances for triumphs. Will Daniel try his hand at a local metal band? Will Sue forever go on her first date with a local lottery who happens to be one of Daniel’s teachers?

Based on Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel, “Bagnold Summer” is the directorial debut of British comic book actor Simon Bird, adapted from his wife Lisa Owens (her first screenplay credit). Both bring light touches, instead of reaching for the absurd or exaggerating with filmic blossoms. They believe that ordinary situations will be important to us because they are important to the characters. And their trust returns, mostly because Cave and Dolan so fully populate their roles.

Cave has made a name for himself with projects like “The True History of Kelly’s Gang” and the TV series “Alex Rider”. Here, his disrespectful teenage character might make you ground him in minutes, but Daniel’s actual pain is also palpable.

BAFTA winner Dolan (“Very English Scandal”) gives the winning performance. Your heart immediately moves towards Sue as she tries to persuade her gloomy son to put on his shoes or share some cake. Even if you feel things can’t go well when Mr. Slick calls her, you want her to experience an adventure. She deserves it. There is light in it. He truly loves his son; he feels it when he receives news of his summer plans. Her small reactions to the things that the beautiful, kind of cosmic mother of Daniel’s only friend said, her interactions with her sister – they are all wonderfully alive. Watching her do something so ordinary, like an immoderate attempt to jump over rocks, is comical gold, without a shred of trace.

Indie folk-poppers Belle and Sebastian provide a sensitive soundtrack of the film, because of course they do. That musical choice, instead of illustrating Daniel’s metal dreams, is another way of telling the truth of the story openly. The humble reality of the “Bagnold Summer” season of dissatisfaction is conveyed in small things that mean a lot and in exchanges like Sue’s “You’re in a Good Mood” and Daniel’s “No, I’m Not.”

‘Bagnold Summer Days’

Not rated

Duration: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Begins Feb. 19, Laemmle Virtual Cinema; also in a limited edition where theaters are open; available March 16 on digital and VOD

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