Written and directed by Chris Green (Strangeways Here We Come), The Pebble and the Boy is a sweet, quirky coming-of-age story that is as much a celebration of mod culture as it is a story of grief and growing up.
After the death of his dad, a former mod who spent his youth scrapping with rockers, a young student from Manchester (Patrick McNamee) embarks on a road trip to Brighton on his dad’s old motorcycle (and decked out in his vintage parka) to scatter his father’s ashes. He is accompanied by Nicki (Sacha Parkinson), the pretty, outspoken daughter of his late father’s friend. In typical road trip movie fashion, the two encounter a series of challenges and misadventures as they make their way toward the sea-side city that the film describes as “the spiritual home of the mods”.
Admittedly, I knew very little about mod culture coming into this film. I was familiar with sociologist Stanley Cohen’s classic 1972 text Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers and I have a deep love of Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl comics, which frequently reference mod music and fashion, but otherwise I am several decades, and an ocean, removed from the UK-born subculture that is at the spiritual core of The Pebble and the Boy. Luckily, expertise in all things mod is not a prerequisite for enjoyment. One of the most impressive things about The Pebble and the Boy is that it immediately immerses the viewer in a very specific, niche world, but presents us with a familiar emotional journey. The music, pop culture references, and setting are unusual enough to keep things fresh, even when the main storyline falls back on well-worn tropes. And, the familiar (but ever-relevant) themes of maturity, parent-child relationships, and grief make sure that the audience stays grounded and emotionally invested in the characters without losing themselves in an ocean of nostalgia for a subculture and time they may know nothing about.
McNamee, in his first role in a full-length feature, gives a truly commendable performance as John, a boy on the verge of adulthood coming to terms with the death of his father. He is funny and almost painfully relatable. Parkinson is similarly charismatic as Nicki, though the script could have given her a bit more to work with. Her quips are clever and she’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch, but her character feels a bit static and underdeveloped. Especially in the third act, she becomes little more than a wooden love-interest who exists to further John’s story. This is frustrating, especially given Parkinson’s obvious talent. I couldn’t help but feel that both she, and Nicki, deserved more.
Still, The Pebble and the Boy is a heartwarming film with a fun soundtrack that also offers a thoughtful examination of adulthood, masculinity, and the power of nostalgia. Fans of mod music and fashion will no doubt get an extra kick of enjoyment out of the celebration of a subculture that is rarely depicted in contemporary cinema.
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