Jeanne Moreau has a field day in a showboating, grande dame role in “The Summer House,” a comic audience pleaser about older women sabotaging the unwise wedding plans of a confused young lady in stuffy 1950s England. Played broadly for laughs, this slight, genteel but spunky BBC Films production, which has already been telecast in the U.K. and will be released domestically by Goldwyn at Christmas, could shake loose some B.O. coin if marketing reaches its prime target among older women.
In the primly middle-class London suburb of Croydon, lovely but listless teenager Lena Headey is engaged to foppish 40-year-old David Threlfall, who still lives with ma Joan Plowright. Headey and her divorced mother Julie Walters had lived in Egypt, the exotic and erotic memories of which provide the young woman with an active fantasy life.
Enter Moreau, Walters’ best friend from Egyptian days, a half-French, half-English whirlwind of mischief and feminine wiles whose notorious romantic life has been unencumbered by typically British conventions concerning appropriate ladylike behavior.
It’s easy to see a mile away that Moreau’s Mediterranean influence will thaw the others out and convince Headey not to fall into a passionless marriage, but there is still plenty of lowdown fun to be had in watching it all play out.
Chain-smoking, guzzling booze and spouting worldly epigrams about love and life, Moreau fits into Croydon like a peacock in Antarctica, sashaying around and imposing her seductive will on everyone. While working her ways on Headey, she even unstraps the cloistered Plowright, getting her rip-roaring drunk on an outing. The sight of these two women falling down in inebriated hilarity is a comic highlight.
Scenarist Martin Sherman (“Bent”) has festooned this safely domesticated item with a healthy measure of zippy dialogue and character humor, extended by the extravagantly talented cast. For anyone who enjoys Moreau, this is a feast, as she struts her stuff in a deliciously theatrical manner seldom afforded her onscreen.
As the initially retiring old mum, Plowright delivers moments of caustic deadpan wit as well as rambunctious comedy, while Walters, constrained by the most routine role, still conveys strong character.
Headey, who caught the eye as the young lover in “Waterland” last year, has the burden of playing near-total passivity for most of the running time, but holds sufficient promise of eventual beauty, sensitivity and fulfilled womanhood to sustain interest. What happened to her character back in Egypt is less clearly and meaningfully worked out.
Threlfall is frequently hilarious as the oafish fiance, while remaining roles are deftly caricatured.
Made on a low budget, pic has basic but adequate production values.