If the Brits didn’t invent “nostalgia,” you can bet your bollocks they perfected it.
Case in point, “The Pebble and the Boy,” a sentimental comedy about a college lad who takes his Dad’s old Lambretta scooter from Manchester to Brighton to scatter the his father’s ashes.
The old man was a Mod, and as they’ve said over the decades and say again many times in the film, “Once a Mod, always a Mod.” Brighton was the Mods’ Mecca.
The 20ish kid isn’t a “Mod,” per se — sort of Mod adjacent, sporting the ’80s fashions now called “Casual Classics” (Izod, Fila, Fred Perry and Sergio Tacchini sportswear). That makes him a “Module,” he’s told.
The son, John (Patrick McNamee) meets Dad’s Mod support system, people who got on their Vespas, Lambrettas and what not back in the ’80s during the Mod Revival. John later runs into an OMG — Original Mod Gangsta (just made that up, copyright pending) — from the ’60s, when Mods and Rockers took their fashion (pre-preppy vs. leather) and music (The Beatles, Who, et al vs. rockabilly) and two-wheeled (scooters vs. motorcycles) clashes to the streets for brawls.
So “Pebble and the Boy” is modern kids nostalgic for ’80s Mods who were mimicking ’60s Mods. That Mod Mobius loop is nostalgia perfected.
The film takes its title from a song by Paul Weller of The Jam, a punk era outfit with Mod in its DNA. Most North Americans might only recall this culture through the movie “Quadrophenia” and by that famous Beatles press conference quote when Paul McCartney refused to take sides in the Mods vs. Rockers conflict.
“We’re Mockers,” he quipped.
“Pebble” is contrived, obvious and kind of a geezer’s wish fulfillment fantasy in its depiction of a new generation embracing the fashion, music and motor-scooters of their parents and grandparents. I see the British press mostly lambasted the film. The British press can blow it out their Lambrettas. I found it just as contrived and obvious, but cute and fun enough to get by.
John figures he’s been to his dad’s funeral and that’s the end of it. His mother (Christine Termarco), who long ago divorced his dad and remarried, certainly hopes so.
But that’s before John pokes around Dad’s wardrobe, his record collection (The Jam, Paul Weller, etc.) and newspaper clippings (Mods protest Thatcher, etc.). And that’s before the slightly-damaged Lambretta is delivered from the police impound lot. Dad died on it. Fila-favoring John decides he’ll take the urn and the blinged-out scooter to Brighton, and live out a little adventure as a last tribute.
He has to make a break for it, over his mother’s objections. When he breaks down as we knew he would, Mum points him to the first connection in his dad’s old Mod/scooter support system. But the repairer is set to keep John there until he can be taken home. The man’s Mod-mad daughter (Sacha Parkinson) has other ideas.
The first laugh in the movie comes when we see the simpler-than-simple stunt Nicola, who goes by “Nickers” (tee hee), pulls to make their getaway. Parkinson, of TV’s “Coronation Street” and “Mr. Selfridge,” provides a lot of the laughs in “The Pebble and the Boy.” She’s a manic pixie Mod girl.
As they make their way South towards a beachside ashes-scattering and Paul Weller concert (Dad had tix), they run into the Mods’ traditional rivals — leather-clad bikers — meet up with other Mod-friends of Dad’s and take on a third scooter companion — leering, Mod-mocking Logan (Max Boast). His Mod Mum (Patsy Kensit of “Absolute Beginners”) and Dad (Ricci Hartnett) figure he could learn a thing or two from the pilgrimage.
Every so often, John loses the will or his nerve. Bullies, would-be scooter thieves and beer busts test him. Nickers is there to badger him back on-task, whatever it takes. Almost.
“I’m not the kind of girl who gets shagged in the alley…Not in daylight, anyway.”
Road comedies are universal cinematic comfort food, and this one wears that label easily. The leads are engaging, the “obstacles” not-wholly undemanding and the whole enterprising Mod and modest — just light enough to skip from plot contrivance to contrivance.
It may not be as instructive to the UK generations who grew up with this cultural phenomenon. But to outsiders who missed even the early 2000s scooter revival, it’s a trip. The wheels, the slang, the camaraderie, the soundtrack (songs by The Jam, Paul Weller, Style Council, The Chords) and even the “You look like a deck chair” fashion statements are revelatory and fun.
Rating: unrated, some violence, put smoking, alcohol and profanity
Cast: Patrick McNamee, Sacha Parkinson, Christine Termarco, Max Boast, Ricci Hartnett and Patsy Kensit.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Chris Green. A NOW Films release.
Running time: 1:41