Thursday, January 17, 2013

One Summer Love (1976)

         Originally released under the title Dragonfly, this offbeat story depicts the unexpected circumstance by which romance helps a troubled individual recover from psychological trauma—and though the film obviously means well, major problems with character development undercut the intended impact. Beau Bridges plays Jesse, a tightly wound young man who has spent most of his life in a mental hospital. When the picture begins, he receives permission to exit the facility, though his doctor (James Noble) wonders whether Jesse will be able to handle the harshness of the outside world. Intent on finding the family that abandoned him after a mysterious childhood incident, Jesse treks to his hometown of Danbury, Connecticut, and, eventually, enters a movie theater. The theater’s pretty candy-counter clerk, Chloe (Susan Sarandon), discovers that Jesse has no place to stay, so she invites him home even though he’s clearly unwell.
          This single moment virtually undoes the entire movie, because it makes no sense that Chloe would take in a man whom she has already seen manifest symptoms of instability and volatility. Even the tender/tough dynamism of Sarandon’s performance isn’t enough to sell the story’s central contrivance, and producer-director Gilbert Cates—who often thrived telling stories about people with emotional problems—makes several tonal missteps, not least of which is scoring the movie with music so dark that One Summer Love occasionally feels like a horror picture. Unfortunately, Bridges’ performance hurts credibility, too; while he approaches individual scenes with appropriate levels of intensity and/or warmth, he’s unable to overcome the falseness of a character who lashes out in rage whenever it’s narratively convenient for such a thing to happen.
          The weakest section of the picture, however, involves Jesse seeking lodging with a hotel owner (Ann Wedgeworth) who all but rapes the younger man. If One Summer Love was, in part, meant to be a coming-of-age story, then a physical encounter between Chloe and Jesse would have added more soul to the film. Yet the picture recovers, somewhat, once Jesse finally tracks down family members, even though the movie’s final scene is a puzzler. One Summer Love isn’t a satisfying movie, by any stretch, but it is worth watching largely for Sarandon’s performance and for the gauzy atmospherics Cates uses to evoke the sleepy rhythms of small-town life. If logic is one of your cinematic priorities, though, take a pass on this one. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on

One Summer Love: FUNKY

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