The Pebble And The Boy

UK (2021) Dir. Chris Green

“Once a Mod, always a Mod”

There’s a chance most kids grow up having a hard time understanding how their strict, sensible, joy killing parents were once tearaways themselves. Hopefully though, most of them don’t have any secrets in their past they’d rather didn’t resurface.

Phil Parker, a lifelong Mod passes away, leaving his house and all his affects to his only son, 19 year-old John (Patrick McNamee) who barely knew his father. Shortly after the funeral, John takes delivery of his father’s Lambretta scooter which he plans to sell until reading about the Mods’ affinity with Brighton, and decides to scatter Phil’s ashes there. John leaves Manchester but doesn’t get far as the scooter keeps breaking down.

He is rescued by an old friend of Phil’s, Geoff (Stuart Wolfenden), who takes John home to fix the scooter, meeting Geoff’s daughter Nikki (Sacha Parkinson). Unlike John, Nikki loves her father’s Mod culture and discovering tickets for a Paul Weller gig in Brighton In Phil’s parka coat and wants to tag along. Geoff forbids this, so Nikki and John sneak off together, beginning an eye-opening journey as John learns the truth about his father.

I don’t know anything about writer-director Chris Green but I am assuming he is as big a fan of the film version of Quadrophenia as I am. If not, he is a Paul Weller fan wanting to pay tribute to the Mod culture and its greatest musical hits with The Pebble And The Boy, named after a Weller song. If it seems too hasty to mention Quadrophenia so early in this review, the pervasive Mod motif and the Lambretta practically encourage it as a prime reference point.

So, it needs to made clear straight away, this is NOT Quadrophenia 2K by any stretch of the imagination, despite shooting scenes in some of the same locations in Brighton, and leaning heavily into a visual homage. Green’s film is a coming-of-age story regarding a boy who never knew his father, struggling to reconcile what he learns through scant information and distorted narratives.

John is nothing like his father, presumably from being raised by mother Dawn (Christine Tremarco) and stepfather Steve (Mark Sheals). There is a huge plot hole created by not explaining why John and Phil barely saw each other. A recurring plot thread sees John being known by all of Phil’s Mod mates, as well as the gifts left for John by Phil – if they were that estranged, and Phil never remarried, how did this relationship work?

Despite having no interest in Mod culture, John dons his father’s parka, mounts the Lambretta (nearly sold to Mani from Stone Roses), and heads to Brighton against Dawn’s wishes. Now, geography is not my strong point but a quick Google search shows it takes roughly 4 ½ hours to get from Manchester to Brighton. So why did it takes John and Nikki THREE DAYS?

Granted, the first night John stayed at Geoff’s place; the next night, he and Nikki end up at a biker’s pub where John thinks he is going to beaten up by the rockers for being a Mod, but instead the owner let them stay the night, gratis. This is another thing – people continually take the pair in, no questions asked, and give them everything for free with no payback expected.

Woking is the next stop, home of another ex-Mod pal of Phil’s, Ronnie (Ricci Harnett), and his wife Sonia (Patsy Kensit). Seemingly loaded, they have a disco room for posh son Logan (Max Boast), and drink champagne out of the bottle like it was water. It is here that a drunken Ronnie alludes to Phil’s big secret before silenced by Sonia, who tries to defuse the situation by trying to seduce John.  

Confused and concerned, John is happy to leave the next morning, with £300 courtesy of Ronnie, and a new travel companion – Logan. Like John, he doesn’t like Mod culture, and like Nikki he doesn’t get on with his dad, but this doesn’t make him any less surplus to requirements; all Logan’s presence does is feed us more clichés of the road trip variety, vis-à-vis, a threat to the inevitable John/Nikki romance.

Remarkably, convention is dropped for the mystery regarding Phil’s reputation following Ronnie’s outburst, leading to an all too brief search for the truth in Brighton. Had this been the main storyline, and the journey to Brighton was a functional conduit, this would have been a much stronger drama. It is evident from the Mod theme and the soundtrack of classic songs that Green is aiming for the nostalgia market, something he could have achieved if it concentrated on Phil’s history with Brighton.

Maybe Hollywood can do road trip films better than us Brits, since their world is wacky enough for these things to happen; little of what is depicted here hardly feels natural at all. It might be fiction but nobody mouths off a biker pub and gets away with it, let alone a free night’s stay. Such generosity just doesn’t happen on this much of a regular basis -plus John rarely says “thank you”, the ungrateful git.

A few recognisable faces in the cast – the only notable real “name” is associate producer Patsy Kensit – can’t help make the clunky script come alive, or make it feel natural, unless the fault is with Green as a director. Sacha Parkinson for example, has a 20 year career to her name including a two-year stint in Coronation Street, and was exceptional is religious drama Apostasy, but here there are times when she seems to be just out of acting school.

Lamentably, I wanted to like The Pebble And The Boy much more than I did. I can’t say I hated it, more like I felt its potential was wasted. A cool soundtrack of classic Mod tracks wasn’t enough to make up for the shortcomings of the script and iffy acting, but it passes the time amiably enough.

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