MANIFF’20 — Simon Bird’s ‘Days Of The Bagnold Summer’ Captures the Universal Pain of Adolescence

Stigma Films

‘Teenagers scare the living shit out of me’ sang Gerard Way in My Chemical Romance’s hit song ‘Teenagers’, speaking of society’s relationship with the younger generation of which it cannot fully understand. Simon Bird’s Days of the Bagnold Summer expands upon the fear attributed to the unknowable force of puberty and coming of age in a world significantly different from the one our parents grew up in.

Simon Bird, who played Will McKenzie in the TV sitcom The Inbetweeners, sees his directorial debut with Days of the Bagnold Summer, a coming of age movie set right in the heart of British suburbia. Daniel (Earl Cave)— whose favourite activities include taking six-hour baths, eating crisps and being sad— gets stuck at home for the summer holidays with Sue (Monica Dolan), his dowdy librarian Mum. The film is an adaptation of Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel of the same name and was adapted to the screen by Bird’s wife, Lisa Owens. 

Bird refreshes the tired coming of age genre by focusing on a sub-group who have been mostly unrepresented in cinema, the metal-head. The greasy-haired teenagers who dress exclusively in black band t-shirts and skinny jeans have always been ostracised members of society, never seeming to fit comfortably into the normality of everyday life. Daniel, played magnificently by Earl Cave —yes, Nick’s son, is one of these alternative beings. When Daniel’s absent father cancels their family trip to Florida, Daniel has to face the prospect of spending the entire summer at home, with little to do but argue with his Mum. The film documents the mismatched mother and son as they fill up their days with menial tasks and activities while trying to bond in the process.

At surface level, Daniel and Sue are interesting characters. They clash regularly over almost every issue that arises, yet love each other fiercely and protect one another when life is at its cruellest. In one of the film’s opening scenes, Sue hangs two lines of clothes out to dry; black t-shirts and jeans fill one side of the washing line, while pastel blouses and cardigans fill the other. The scene serves as a visual representation of the divide existing between the mismatched duo but also captures the tasks of domestic life that the pair carry out to care for one another. 

Stigma Films

Although they appear to be opposites, mother and son are more alike than they care to acknowledge. They share an overwhelming aversion to any kind attention, and both seem to be struggling to put themselves out there or find any confidence when it comes to their careers or their romantic prospects. They cannot bear to be seen, noticed or express themselves in any way, preferring instead to shield themselves from the abandonment and disappointment they have known in their pasts. Mid haircut, Sue asks her sister not to chop too much hair off because she doesn’t want others to know she’s had it done. Daniel also avoids washing or cutting his lank and greasy hair, as if even choosing a style would be too bold a statement to make. 

Although the film gets a few good gags out of the pair’s polarisation, sadly there isn’t much else to the mother and son duo. The film does bits to point out their shared loneliness and self-imposed isolation from the real world but doesn’t expand upon the topics of depression or anxiety that it brings to attention. Bird had the room to explore these characters at greater depths but chose to leave them as one-dimensional beings and instead coin in on them for an onslaught of daft banter and jokes. In fact, much of what is promising about Days of the Bagnold Summer is sacrificed for needless comedy. The film’s thin plot isn’t much of an issue in the first act, but when Bird fails to develop his central characters into anything more than shallow caricatures, the film has little else to fall back on. The story would be better suited to fit inside an episode of a British TV sitcom and sadly doesn’t have the strength to stand alone as a narrative feature.

Still, there is much to admire in Bird’s directorial debut. The comedic performances he pulls from his cast showcase his thorough knowledge of British humour, sarcasm and timing. There are some great moments when the quiet suburbia of a residential neighbourhood is juxtaposed with loud thrash metal, capturing that British tendency to repress their colourful personalities. The film’s production design by Lucie Red creates a homely sense of space and an environment which feels as comfortable as popping round to your Nan’s for a cup of tea. Visually the movie is neat and well developed, evoking the style of directors such as Wes Anderson and Richard Ayoade.

The standout of the piece is Earl Cave in his role of a mopey British teenager, his shyness is painful, his anxiety is palpable, and his loneliness is consuming. His performance is so realistic that it will bring back those haunting memories from your adolescence; those times you acted like an ungrateful spoilt brat who didn’t realise how wonderful it was to spend some time in the company of your mother.

Days of the Bagnold Summer screened at Manchester International Film Festival on March 12th

by Leoni Horton

Leoni Horton (She/Her) has a dog named Bill Murray and a Master’s Degree in Writing For The Screen. She spends most of her time thinking about her next cup of coffee, or which Safdie Brother would make the best boyfriend. Some of her favourite films include Blue Velvet, The Apartment and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Leoni can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd at @inoelshikari.

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