The Pebble and the Boy, the new film from Chris Green (Me, Myself and Di), opens with a montage of vintage images of mods, constructing a very specific type of nostalgia for a time that most wouldn’t have directly experienced but still have a joyful fondness and vague interest in. That nostalgia accelerates this present-day film and, while sometimes landing a bit hollow, it is clearly handled with a passionate and knowing hand in the shape of Green. The film then cuts to funeral flower displays, one reading “mod” and the next “dad”, as John (Patrick McNamee) walks out with his mother (Christine Tremarco) and gets into the hearse. It is his fathers funeral, and what follows are quiet scenes that evoke the stilted and slow nature of grief well, despite being scored by slightly trite piano music. There is a mystery surrounding his dad, not just for the viewer but for John too, and after discovering more about the mods and his dad’s connection, he decides to take a pilgrimage to mod holy sight Brighton to scatter his father’s ashes, despite his mother’s protestation.
This journey leads him to meeting a procession of colourful characters connected to his dad in different ways (that for some reason he had never met before this but that all know him). The first meeting starts as John’s newly inherited Lambretta breaks down not far from home and he’s saved by his dad’s old friend. John then meets the friend’s daughter Nicki (Sacha Parkinson), who is an angry, bleach blonde, polo wearing, Mancunian manic pixie dream girl. She calls her dad a dickhead, smashes headlights in and effortlessly fixes a scooter when the men fail. She’s quite a stereotype and very obviously written by a man, but she becomes the film’s most likable character and possesses the energy that is at its centre. John and Nicki push on in their expedition while pushing the narrative forward with their chemistry and funny and engaging dynamic. From a visit to a bikers cafe where his attempt to be aggressive to the leather-clad bikers is met with laughter, to a stop off at Woking to meet another old mod friend of his dads and his strange, dysfunctional family, Nicki and John are the heart. However, the protagonist’s characterisation feels slightly perfunctory, with what he’s going through not that deeply considered.
The Pebble and the Boy’s pacing is even and considered with moments of humour and emotional drama landing well and includes all the ingredients to be a crowd-pleaser, especially the use of Paul Weller’s music. Unfortunately, his music is only peppered in during obvious moments. The Style Council’s ‘Speak Like A Child’ plays over a scooter riding montage, ‘Saturday’s Kids’ by The Jam soundtracks John looking through his dad’s mod gear, and later again during a saccharine dance scene, and then the titular Weller song ‘The Pebble and the Boy’ plays at the films emotional crux. While it fits well and injects the film with energy, disappointingly the music is not used in an exciting or interesting way.
With their arrival in Brighton happening so soon, about half way through the film, the narrative takes a turn away from road movie to focussing wholly on John’s attempt at uncovering the mysteries surrounding his father, trying to understand him fully and also reckoning with what he’s lost. The film’s emotional climax is slightly predictable but not any less impactful and is imbued with a sense that the past, which John knows so little about, is constantly encircling him and is inescapable. It becomes a muted, as well as joyful and funny (and albeit sometimes cliched), exploration of the previous generations’ impact on us and the age-old question: are we destined to be just like our parents?
The Pebble and the Boy is out in UK cinemas now
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine Sinclair @madeleinia
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here.