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Summer in February | Review

Summer Bummer: Menaul’s Love Triangle Inspires Opposite Emotions

Summer in February PosterNot every “based on a true story” is actually fit for a feature length film. In fact, most of these stories are embellished beyond recognition to sustain narrative integrity and audience interest. Not so with Christopher Menaul’s latest, Summer In February, which seems to convey that, if anything, love is a mainly belabored thing. Spending nearly his entire career working in television, this adaptation of a novel by Jonathan Smith, which recounts the lives of several real life historical figures, is structured like an ungainly corset, wound up all tight and stuffy and begging for a commercial break to exhale.

In 1913 Cornwall, we meet a group of young artists that have gathered there to work in what was widely regarded as a free thinking sanctuary. The loudmouthed and cocky A.J. Munnings (Dominic Cooper) is the dashing painter championed as the most talented of the current crowd. He’s close friends with the local land agent, the “blue blooded” Captain Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens). Their little microcosm is disrupted when high class Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning) arrives to learn the artistic trade and both men vie for her attention.

At times, it’s unclear if the stagnant boredom is the result of a tepid screenplay or the wan and torpid performances. While it’s most likely a combination of both, at least Dominic Cooper attacks his role with a vivacious energy, though clearly cliché as the careless, self-absorbed artist archetype. Words like marriage and love are tossed around to explain why we’re watching these characters moon about together, but there’s never an instance where we actually see why they are using these words to describe feelings when they only hang out while bickering about the nature of art. Dan Stevens, who is also serving as producer, is the stale counterpart to Cooper’s yippy artist but it’s a languid role from Australian actress from Emily Browning that really tanks the ship. She giggles and sobs as necessary, but there’s never an instance where she is at all believable as struggling artist Florence Carter-Wood.

On the other hand, tech credits are first rate and the film is truly a picaresque endeavor. But we’re not supposed to be watching a string of postcards come to life. Summer In February isn’t remarkable enough to have the distinction of one of the least interesting love triangles committed to celluloid, and while its title insinuates that something will be heating up the climate, this couldn’t be farther away from the truth. It’s got that summertime blandness.

★ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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