Photo: ‘Days of The Bagnold Summer’/
Music by Belle and Sebastian
Millennials, here’s your daily reminder that we’re getting old: Belle and Sebastian, the Scottish Indie band famous for soundtracking the ennui of ‘The O.C.’, ‘Juno’, and ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’, is twenty-seven years old. While the band has shed some members from the early days, frontman Stuart Murdoch is still doing his thing–the band’s most recent project is providing the score for the film ‘Days of The Bagnold Summer’, directed by Simon Bird and adapted from a 2012 graphic novel by Joff Winterhart.
Over the years, Murdoch has intermittently leaped into more active roles in the world of Cinema. In 2001, Belle and Sebastian provided an entire album for the film ‘Storytelling’, only to have most of it scrapped due to creative differences with director Todd Solondz. It’s a shame, because the album is really quite good, and now exists as an artifact of half-baked creative decision-making gone awry (Belle and Sebastian often go dreary, but they don’t really reach the depths of bleak misanthropy favored by Solondz).
2014 saw Stuart Murdoch write and direct the film ‘God Help the Girl’, which saw Emily Browning star as an anorexic woman who flees a psychiatric hospital to form a band in Glasgow. It was a charmingly self-conscious film, but it might have benefitted from the inclusion of some of the band’s pre-2006 oeuvre.
‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ – A Colorful Cast of Characters
‘Days of The Bagnold Summer’ feels like Belle and Sebastian’s return to Saturn. The last fifteen years or so have seen Stuart Murdoch take the band to the outer orbit of its identity, lightyears away from the precious chamber pop that typified their output in their popularity heyday. Murdoch no longer seems set on complete reinvention.
The band will probably never release anything with the gravity of their early albums, but they now are less resistant to playing the hits and putting out the kind of minor-key compositions that led to them becoming the indie darlings of the chronically depressed. The ‘Days of The Bagnold Summer’ soundtrack may only include two classic Belle and Sebastian songs, but fans of the band’s old-school discography will certainly find something to love in the new tracks crafted specifically for the film.
The film itself, while an adaptation of a preexisting work, is brimming with characters that seem straight out of ‘Belle and Sebastian’ lyrics. There’s brooding heavy metal-obsessed teen Daniel Bagnold (played by Earl Cave, son of brooding musician Nick Cave, who also happens to dabble in film scores and screenwriting). His mother Sue (Monica Dolan) is the lovelorn local librarian, still, single nearly a decade after divorcing Daniel’s father.
Sue finds herself romantically pursued by Douglas (Rob Brydon), the charmingly befuddled history teacher at Daniel’s high school. Sue’s sister Carol (Alice Lowe) is a gossipy beautician who blithely teases her sister about a still-smarting tragic romance from their teen years. Daniel’s best (and only) friend Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott) is a flamboyant dresser who dreams of being a band manager. Ky’s mother Astrid (Tamsin Greig) is a spiritualist who performs Reiki massage. The film mostly consists of this core cast bouncing off each other in various combinations.
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It’s a small stakes, self-contained Summer hangout movie that feels a bit like the early work of Wes Anderson or Richard Linklater. There’s a throwback vibe to the film, reinforced by its sleepy English suburbia setting. Daniel and Sue are still beholden to their landline telephone. Daniel’s favorite band is Metallica. He and Ky hang out at the mall. Daniel is desperate to escape the tedium of this existence, placing his hopes in a planned vacation to Florida to visit his dad and pregnant stepmom. When those plans are scuppered, Daniel becomes hostile and retreats into himself, much to the consternation of Sue.
There’s some interesting synchronicity between Daniel’s coming-of-age journey and that of Belle and Sebastian–perhaps it’s what drew the band to the project. Daniel’s desire to escape to Florida is more informed by a desire to grow beyond a perceived staleness in his surroundings; dressed always in black, hating the beach, and clearly not being a big fan of Disney World, the Sunshine State is obviously not his ideal environment.
Forced by the trip cancellation to find opportunities for growth within himself, Daniel happens upon a flyer from a heavy metal band seeking a lead singer. Like Belle and Sebastian, Daniel’s path to growth leads inward, not outward. Of course, teenage self-actualization doesn’t come without some requisite awkwardness. On the cringe spectrum, ‘Days of The Bagnold Summer’ ranks somewhere between ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and ‘Pen15’.
Something Normal for a Change
Surprisingly, Sue Bagnold often feels more like the film’s protagonist than Daniel does. Outfitted with thick spectacles, a clumsy haircut, and unflattering blouses, Sue comes across as an understated side character from the UK incarnation of ‘The Office’. Despite her uncertainty, Sue’s endeavors to understand Daniel and regain control of her life are nothing short of Herculean, at least by this film’s lowkey metric. Essentially, ‘Days of The Bagnold Summer’ breaks down into a series of occasions of a mother convincing herself and her son to leave the house and do something during a lazy summer.
This sometimes produces mixed results–a trip to the seashore results in the pair attending a fudge-making workshop during which Daniel is mortifyingly targeted by a baker who sees himself as a Roastmaster General (Tim Key). A summer of weathering the withering derision of her hormonally nihilistic teenaged son seems to toughen Sue’s resolve to take chances. Encouraged to come for a Reiki session by fellow single mother Astrid, Sue demurs before agreeing, saying, “You only live once.” The new-age Astrid gently questions this assertion, responding, “Well…”
Simon Bird, an actor known for the school-years comedy ‘The Inbetweeners’, has with this directorial effort delivered a touching story reminiscent of the sensitive films of auteurs like Judd Apatow and Mike White. Bird developed the film with his spouse Lisa Owens, for whom ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ marks an auspicious screenwriting debut. The film has been trickling into theaters since premiering at the 2019 Locarno Film Festival, only receiving North American distribution this year. It comes at a welcome moment; in a time of uncertainty, there’s something reassuring about the consistency of a teenager thinking his mom is uncool.
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