In The Pebble and the Boy, John (Patrick McNamee) lays his estranged father to rest, then sets out to learn more about the man who sired him. Thankfully, his father left him a parting gift — an old, tricked-out scooter perfect for making a self-actualizing journey from Manchester to Brighton. Along the way, John finds love, adventure and more than a little emotional turmoil in his quest for ancestral understanding. This is an affable working-class English road-trip movie infused with affection and nostalgia for the Mod subculture and boasting a soundtrack by one of the movement’s figureheads, Paul Weller.
As with most road-trip movies, the script from Chris Green (who also directed) is episodic in nature. John is quickly joined by Nicki (Sacha Parkinson), a cool girl who helps him in his journey. The two have chemistry off the bat, but of course their eventual coupling sees many detours along the way. One of the mysteries John wants to solve about his father is why the old man was rarely around. How did he go from fashionable ’60s Mod to being an elusive presence in his own child’s life? And what is John to make of all this Mod stuff he encounters? All it does is remind him of his father and an era that isn’t his own. A suitable subtitle, of course, might be How I Learned to Love the Mod, given Green’s deep affection for the music, fashions and attitudes of the subculture’s 1980’s revival. This was a dream project for him.
Although ultimately sweet, the film drags in the middle as John and Nicki find themselves in new places. I’ll admit that as a decidedly unfashionable American viewer from our decidedly unfashionable Midwest, much of the Mod aspects of the story fell flat for me until I researched the movement after finishing the film. The ending lands the story gracefully enough with revelations about John’s father that feel justified in both their hard edge and genuine sweetness. There’s a happy ending here, and the relationship between John and Nicki is satisfying in a basic way, enough so that those unfamiliar with mid-century British culture can still enjoy seeing how the story turns out. This may be a love letter to something I didn’t understand, but the writing and passion behind the storytelling made its romance affecting regardless.
The Pebble and the Boy employs most of the road-trip tropes you’ve seen before, in service of Green exploring his interests through the eyes of two very well-acted characters. Although this ends up a well-natured story about growth and finding yourself, it overall can’t quite overcome the listlessness of its middle, on-the-road segment to feel like something worth recommending to anyone but the biggest fan of Mod nostalgia. If that’s what you’re into, though, this might be the film you’ve been waiting for.