Assorted issues — dyslexia, adult illiteracy, the plight of careers for the disabled — are refracted through the prism of drama in “Summer,” helmer Kenny Glenaan’s well-meaning but schematic third feature. Co-produced by Ken Loach’s main shingle, Sixteen Films, the pic feels like Loach Lite with its mix of melodrama and working-class woe but without the oomph. There’s stuff to admire, including an affecting perf by Robert Carlyle and fine widescreen lensing, the latter marking a major advance on Glenaan’s DV-shot “Yasmin.” But after a summer fest run, distribution prospects look wintry.
Life is no picnic for Shaun (Robert Carlyle), a fortysomething Scotsman living on a housing estate in an unnamed Northern English town. His main job is looking after his paraplegic friend Daz (Steve Evets), who’s in bad shape due to chronic alcoholism. Daz’s teenage son Daniel (Michael Socha) also nominally lives with Shaun and Daz, but is seldom around.
Shaun is haunted by memories of a happier time 20-odd years ago. Back then, he was dating childhood sweetheart Katy (played as a teen by Joanna Tulej, and as an adult by Rachael Blake), a bright girl who would do Shaun’s homework for him to cover for his profound dyslexia.
Use of sets and camera tricks make it look like space and time has contracted so the grown Shaun can see his teenage self (Sean Kelly) frolicking with Katy and Daz (Jo Doherty) before he was paralyzed. Extensive flashbacks illustrate how Shaun’s learning difficulties made him frustrated and sometimes violent, even when he was a child (played by Matthew Workman). Clearly, the education system failed him.
In the present, Daz is told he has only a couple of months to live. Shaun decides Katy should be told so she can say goodbye, but first he has to find her, and the fear of rejection holds him back.
Pic laudably illustrates how hard it is for those who look after others. The ever-watchable Carlyle is in good form here, bringing a crushed dignity to Shaun, one of life’s perpetual losers. Evets lends fine support, and gets most of the pic’s funniest lines. There are evocative and poetic moments, for instance a dream sequence when a teenage Katy walks out of a lake and straight, courtesy of a neat invisible edit, into the grown Shaun’s bedroom to kiss him on the cheek.
Problem is, the screenplay lacks dramatic momentum and feels both predictable and heavyhanded as the flashbacks work their way toward the revelation of how Daz lost the use of his legs. For all the crying and reconciliations in the final reels, helmer Glenaan and screenwriter Hugh Ellis deliver only weak emotional punches, and some auds may feel too manipulated to sympathize.
Casting is also a problem with the younger thesps, not because of any lack of skill on their part — they’re fine, although only Tulej really shines — but because their manners and looks don’t really match up with the thesps playing the same characters as adults. One must assume, for example, that Shaun’s life must have been truly harrowing to have shrunk about half a foot since he was a teen.
Tech credits are quietly pro, but not especially flashy.