Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
For a film that involves a love triangle, mental illness, a Bohemian colony of free-spirits, an impending war and several important historical figures, the most exciting elements of Summer in February are the stunning shots of the English country and Cornish seaside. The rest of the film never quite lives up to the crashing waves and sun-dappled meadows that are used to bookend the scenes, as the entertaining opening never manages to coalesce into a story that lives up the the cinematography, let alone the lives of the people that inspired it.
Set in an Edwardian artist’s colony in Cornwall, Summer in February tells the story of A.J. Munnings (Dominic Cooper), who went on to become one of the most famous painters of his day and head of the Royal Academy of Art, his best friend, estate agent and part-time soldier Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens), and the woman whom they both loved, aspiring artist Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning). Her marriage to Munnings was an extremely unhappy one, and she attempted suicide on their honeymoon, before killing herself in 1914. According to his journals, Gilbert and Florence were madly in love, although her marriage and his service in the army kept them apart.
When the film begins, Munnings is the center of attention in the Lamorna Artist's Colony, dramatically reciting poetry at parties and charming his way out of his bar tab while everyone around him proclaims him to be a genius. When he’s not drinking or painting, he’s riding horses with Gilbert, who has the relatively thankless task of keeping this group of Bohemians in line. Their idyllic existence is disrupted by the arrival of Florence, who has run away from her overbearing father and the fiancé he had picked out for her in order to become a painter.
Stevens and Browning both start the film solidly, with enough chemistry between them to make their infatuation interesting. He manages to give Gilbert enough dependable charm to win over both Florence and the audience, and she presents Florence as someone with enough spunk and self-possession to go after what she wants. Browning’s scenes with Munnings are equally entertaining in the first third of the film, as she can clearly see straight through all of his bravado and he is intrigued by her and how difficult she is to impress. Unfortunately, while the basis of the love triangle is well-established and entertaining, it takes a sudden turn into nothing with a surprise proposal from Munnings.
Neither the film nor Browning ever make it clear why Florence accepts his proposal, especially when they have both taken great pains to establish that she doesn’t care much for him. But once she does, the films stalls, and both Stevens and Browning spend the rest of the film doing little more than staring moodily and longingly at the people around them. The real-life Florence was plagued by depression and mental instability, but neither the film nor Browning’s performance ever manage to do more than give the subtlest hint at that darkness. On a few occasions, Browning does manage to portray a genuine anguish, but rather than producing any sympathy from the audience, it simply conjures up images of a different film, one that focused more on Florence, and the difficulties of being a woman with a mental illness at a time when both were ignored or misunderstood.
Stevens is fine, and Gilbert starts out with the same kind of good-guy appeal the won the heart of Mary Crawley and Downton Abbey fans the world over. However, once the film stalls, so does his performance, and he quickly drops everything that made the character attractive or interesting in favor of longing looks and long stretches of inactivity. He does portray a convincing amount of adoration for Florence, although that's about the only real emotion that Gilbert expresses for the vast majority of the film, and even during his love scene, he never manages to give him any amount of passion.
Cooper does his best with what he’s given, and tries his hardest to imbue the film with some substance and drama. His Munnings is by turns charming, brash, and brooding, the kind of person who has been told all of their life that they are special, and believes it. He even manages to give the character some depth, and even though he and Browning have very little chemistry, he manages to convey a genuine affection for her. It’s a shame that Munnings becomes such a deeply unlikable character, because Cooper is the only thing giving Summer in February a jolt of life – even if it comes via bursts of thinly-explained hostility. It's hard to watch just how hard he's working to connect with his co-stars and add some excitement to a lifeless script and not wish that he had a better film to show off his talents in.
Unfortunately, by the time Florence and Gilbert are finally spurred into activity, the film has dragged on for so long that you’re no longer invested in the characters, their pain, or their love story, even if you want to be. Which is the real disappointment of Summer in February; underneath the stalled plot and the relatively one-note acting, there are glimmers of a fascinating and compelling story that’s never allowed to come to the forefront.
Another year, another Golden Globes. But though the awards have been handed out, the formalwear neatly tucked away, and the attending celebs are starting to recover from their hangovers, we still have some burning questions about the ceremony itself.
1. Why did Lena Dunham thank Chad Lowe?
The Girls creator and star had announced on Twitter that the next time she won an award she would right Hilary Swank’s wrong of 13 years ago: forgetting to thank her husband Chad Lowe when accepting her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry. So that’s exactly what Dunham did. However, she forgot to name-drop Lowe during her first Globe win last night, for Best Actress in a TV Comedy. Lowe immediately tweeted, “Congrats to @lenadunham on your Golden Globe win. But, seriously? You forget to thank me?! After all we've been through? I'm shocked.” Order was restored to the universe when Dunham did thank him after winning for Best Comedy Series. "I also promised myself that if I ever got this chance, I would thank Chad Lowe,” Dunham said. That prompted Lowe to respond, “Dearest Lena Dunham, you complete me” and “Now that I'm trending worldwide (finally) does that mean I don't have to give my daughters a bath or change their diapers anymore?”
2. Was Paul Rudd and Salma Hayek’s awkward presentation of Best Actor in a TV Drama due to technical difficulties?
Afraid so. Rudd and Hayek started off fine with a joke about the nominees, Bryan Cranston, Damien Lewis, Jon Hamm, Steve Buscemi, and Jeff Daniels. Hayek set up the punchline with, “They drink, they do drugs, they have a huge ego, and they are not to be trusted,” followed immediately by Rudd’s, “And that’s just their agents!” Okay, that kinda bombed since maybe agent-related humor is off-limits at awards shows. But it was better than what followed: silence. After their quip, Hayek and Rudd just stood there. It turns out the teleprompter did not display the names of the nominees they were to rattle off. Rudd tried to fill dead air by saying, “Hello, how’s everyone doing?” (Maybe if Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had been around more, they could have salvaged this awkward moment!) Finally, the video of the nominees started to roll, and Rudd and Hayek were spared. But that wasn’t the only glitch of the night. A strange buzz was heard over the speech from outgoing HFPA president Aida Takla O’Reilly, which is a shame because she was pretty funny. And on two different occasions the NBC producers’ countdown clock was heard after the broadcast had already resumed. Maybe the nominees weren’t the only ones drinking….
3. Who did Tarantino fist bump?
The Django Unchained director seemed all smug when he fist-bumped someone at his table after Amy Poehler called movie actors beautiful and TV actors “rat-faced.” It was like, “Look at me. I’m a movie director, and I only surround myself with the genetically gifted.” Definitely a faux pas. But its severity is lessened when you find out whom exactly he fist-bumped, since the recipient was unfortunately out of frame: Sofia Vergara. If she’s “rat-faced,” call me a fan of the Order Rodentia. Obviously, Tarantino was joking.
4. Was Savannah Guthrie’s red carpet dress the same as the one Hilary Swank wore to the 2005 Oscars?
We’ll let you decide for yourself.
5. Is this the first year that no broadcast network series won anything at the Golden Globes?
Yes. Call it another ominous milestone for the Big Four, but not a single broadcast network took him a Globe on Sunday. That marks a departure from last year when Modern Family won for Best TV Comedy. Even then, that was the only award a broadcast network received. This year, the drama categories were dominated by Showtime’s Homeland and PBS’ Downton Abbey, the comedy categories by HBO’s Girls and Showtime’s House of Lies, and the miniseries category by History’s Hatfields & McCoys and HBO’s Game Change.
6. Were the TV Categories basically just a redo of the Emmys?
Almost entirely — except for the fact that the Television Academy hasn’t fully abandoned network TV just yet. Emmy is still hung up on Modern Family, and Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet won in September, with the series itself being honored as Best Comedy. And they also awarded Jon Cryer Best Actor in a Comedy. The only other alteration was that Julia Louis-Dreyfus won Best Actress in a Comedy for HBO’s Veep, but otherwise the awards are precisely the same.
7. How does Michael J. Fox’s son qualify as a "philanthropist"?
The Spin City alum's 23-year-old son, Sam Fox, was Mr. Golden Globe last night, which he meant he shared the duty of handing out the statuettes to the winners alongside Miss Golden Globe, Francesca Eastwood. (Mr. and Miss Golden Globe are traditionally the children of Hollywood A-Listers.) Fox the Younger was described on-air as a “philanthropist." So what exactly does he do? He works for a website called Farmers Web, which is a startup platform that assists small farmers in selling their goods to wholesale buyers like restaurants, so that they can stay competitive against corporate agriculture. As for the tangential burning question, “Can you be a 23-year-old philanthropist, unless you’re the child of a Hollywood star, politician, or business leader?” I think we all know the answer to that.
8. What’s up with Tommy Lee Jones’ Col. Sanders ‘stache?
There was quite a bit of odd facial hair on display at the Beverly Hilton. Bill Murray opted for the full walrus effect. Bryan Cranston’s Walter White goatee was well under way (meaning that the remaining episodes of Season 5 are about to go into production. Yay!). Idris Elba opted for a Burt Reynolds semi-handlebar. But the strangest bit of face whiskers had to be those worn by Tommy Lee Jones, with a mustache and a patch below his lips. Just when you thought you wouldn’t see anything follicle-related from Jones that was more unsettling than his wig in Lincoln! Not to worry, though. He isn’t about to enter the fried chicken racket. Jones has just wrapped shooting Luc Besson’s mob thriller Malavita (due Oct. 18) and he obviously just hasn’t wanted to get a shave yet.
9. Um, why doesn’t Maggie Smith ever show up for awards shows?
She’s never made a public statement about why she's almost always a no-show, but the most likely reason is that she’s just really, really busy. If not on TV or in movies, the 78-year-old is still very frequently to be found on the British stage. In fact, her last appearance at any awards ceremony was at the 2002 BAFTAs when she presented a career achievement honor to Judi Dench. The last time she accepted an award in person in the United States? In 1979, when she won her second Oscar, as Best Supporting Actress for the film California Suite.
10. Was Damien Francisco robbed of the Globe for Best Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries for Dog President?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! The miniseries’ answer to Johnny Depp was up for his stirring turn in Dog President, which we assume is another Quality with a Capital Q HBO production from the makers of Warm Springs. But Francisco lost to Kevin Costner for Hatfields & McCoys. Maybe he'll get another shot if Dog President spinoff Canine-in-Chief ever goes into production.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credits: NBC (2); Jason Merritt/Getty Images; Jody Cortes/WENN]
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