Is it possible to fulfill your wildest dreams and fall in love at the same time? That's part of the dilemma in the new movie "Summer in February," which followed one woman's dream to find love and happiness at the same time without much luck in obtaining either. The movie had the potential to be a memorable film, but it took a familiar storytelling path that made it rather forgettable in the end.
"Summer in February" followed Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning) who escaped an arranged engagement to pursue her dream to be an artist, while living with her brother Joey (Max Deacon). The small English country town that Florence moved to was very popular with all sorts of artist types, especially the rather wild and reckless A.J. Munnings (Dominic Cooper) who talked himself up without having the opportunity to follow anything through. A.J. followed his impulses, which got him into more trouble than he cared to admit. Florence's sudden arrival made her a mystery to everyone in town, especially A.J. who worked extra hard to seduce her. Unfortunately, she was also involved with A.J.'s best friend Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens) as well. Gilbert and Florence appeared to be getting closer, which Florence's disapproving father already approved of. A.J. tried to seduce Florence by trying to paint a picture of her that could never come out right. He tried to give her some valuable advice to help her become the artist that she was meant to be. Due to an impulsive proposal, Florence ended up making a very big mistake by choosing a lie instead of what she really wanted. As Florence's marriage progresses, she realized that she chose the wrong man, but she managed to find some much needed relief in the form of an extra-marital affair. The ensuing scandal would have ruined her reputation if the truth ever did get out. Will Florence be able to choose between her two suitors or will fate intervene for her?
In terms of questions, the movie didn't really answer very many and left viewers wondering if there was more to the story than an amemic love triangle that should've been left on the backburner. The movie had the potential of focusing on a unique world of artists who dreamed of success, but they always ended up getting into trouble instead. In the end, the film's plot made the mistake of focusing on a disappointing love triangle that left no one feeling romantic or satisfied with Florence's ultimate decision. It also didn't help that Browning had no real chemistry with either of her leading men, which made it even harder to root for Florence to be with either man. The movie's overally rushed tone seemed to have left a lot of things on the cutting room floor that needed to be answered for everyone involved, such as Florence's questionable motives for marrying a man that she didn't love. Browning's stale scenes with Stevens and Cooper made it even harder to believe that her character could fall in love so quickly before realizing how she truly felt about either man. Ultimately, the movie made mistake of casting Browning as Florence because she appeared to be too young to be playing such an emotionally complex role. They should've chosen someone a little more experienced to carry off the part a lot more effectively, or at the very least developed a version of Florence that made her relatable to viewers. When she first came into the story, Browning's Florence was a strong woman who had even stronger opinions about society as a whole. As the story progressed, the character's identity was shelved to focus on the on-screen love triangle and the beautiful English countryside which served as an excellent backdrop for the movie. It's just a shame that the film's wildly flawed plot nearly marred everything that worked in its favor. Only time will tell if that will change or not.
As for breakout performances, Stevens and Cooper led the pack as two very different leading men who had a lot more in common than they thought with the same woman. They also shared a strong on-screen rapport that managed to eclipse the unworkable chemistry between the three leading characters. Stevens brought a level of realistic morality, even when the character was at his worst. It's a shame that he chose the wrong film project to do after he left "Downton Abbey," because he portrayed Gilbert and Matthew with the same level of moral intensity that made it hard to separate between the two. Stevens embodied Gilbert with the right balance of innocence, vulnerability and sense of duty that still made him the main draw of the film. His strongest scene came towards the end when he realized that a wreckless decision actually cost him the love of his life. Stevens managed to not go too over-the-top without sacrificing any of Gilbert's emotions as he expressed Gilbert's sadness over what he lost. He also projected Gilbert's regret for taking too long to express his feelings to Florence before she chose to marry someone else. Cooper, on the other hand, had the challenging task of portraying the film's resident rebel who caused problems for everyone around him. He gave A.J. a sense of childish abandon after he made one too many mistakes. Cooper's character had the ability to be a memorable one, but the story focused more on his darker moods that what was working in his life. Cooper's most memorable scene came towards the end of the movie when he realized that a loved one betrayed him enough to cause some major trouble. Instead of going into hysterics on-screen, he allowed his eyes to express the groom's heartache for him. Sure, he got to shout out his frustrations during a party, but the scene was bittersweet due to a lack of a major confrontation between A.J. and Florence; as well as the disappointing discovery of the affair. Let's hope that Hollywood will choose wisely again next time when they develop another period piece so that I could fully walk again. It's too early to say if that will be the case.
"Summer in February" was released in select cities on January 17th. Check your local listings for times. It's also available on Comcast On Demand in the Movies section.
Verdict: This movie remake sticks a little more closely to the book, but the overall tone feels a little too sanitized at times to make worth reading the book again to see what was missed.
Movie Score: 2 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: Un-Rated
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)