Based on the graphic novel by writer Joff Winterheart, Days of the Bagnold Summer tells the stories of fifteen-year-old Daniel Bagnold (Earl Cave) and his mother Sue (Monica Dolan), who are forced to spend the summer holiday together after Daniel’s trip to visit his father’s new family in Florida is cancelled. The directorial debut of actor Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners), it is also the first screenwriting credit of writer Lisa Owens, and together the pair have crafted a charming character-focused indie comedy.
Undeniably Bagnold’s best feature is the perfect balance it strikes between comedy and engaging character drama. Though we are asked to laugh at the foibles of our two leads and the various small misfortunes that they go through, it is never with a hint of malice, and we are encouraged also to care for them, their lives, and their relationship – which it is impossible not to thanks to the sincerity and warmth with which they are portrayed. While the script does an excellent job of creating characters the audience can root for and empathise with, much credit must be given to Cave and Dolan for their performances, which are both funny and believably human. The chemistry between the two is great, wonderfully conveying both the love and the distance between them that will likely be familiar to anyone who has recently been on either side of the parent/teen relationship.
It is that relationship that serves as the core of the story, providing both the comedy and the drama. The film is able to balance the humorous and the serious so deftly in large part down to the perceptive way the comedic moments are pulled from life, always avoiding the over-the-top situations found in comedies such as the one in which its director made his name. An awkward conversation between Daniel and a female cousin perfectly illustrates Bagnold’s sense of humour: as Daniel sits awkwardly on the sofa trying to fill the silences while talking to a relative he hardly knows, the film not only provides laughs, but a truthful and observant depiction of teenage behaviour that the audience will no doubt recognise. This approach means that when drama comes, it never feels out of place, because it too arises organically from the characters, just as the comedy does. The sympathetic nature of the characters and the perceptiveness with which they are drawn cultivates a sense of emotional honesty – we see Daniel and Sue in their most awkward and embarrassing moments, creating a closeness between audience and characters that would feel false if we only saw them at their best. The film captures the quirks of life in a way that is so truthful that, even with it being a comedy, excluding the more serious parts of life would feel wrong.
Observant, funny, and brimming with warmth, Days of the Bagnold Summer is an accomplished debut for both Bird and Owens, with two excellent lead performances from Dolan and Cave – the latter of whom is already impressing in what is his first major film role. With its honest and relatable depiction of life and relationships, this is one comedy that will resonate as well as entertain.
Days of the Bagnold Summer is available digitally from 8th June 2020.