What is one reason we love independent films? As demonstrated in Chris Green’s feature film, The Pebble and the Boy, it’s learning something new. Have you ever heard of Mods? No, I don’t mean computer mods. Well then, what’s a Mod? Found in the U.K., think of Mods as a biker gang, but on scooters.
John Parker’s (Patrick McNamee) father, Phil, recently passed away in a bus accident while on his scooter. Phil was liked and respected by the community, and in his honor, John decides to hop on his father’s old Lambretta scooter and travel from his Manchester home to Brighton. Why Brighton? Because it’s the mecca for Mods and is where he plans to spread his father’s ashes.
Fearful that her frail son will meet the same tragic fate as his father, John’s mother refuses to let him go on the trip. John runs off anyway and along the way runs into Nicki (Sacha Parkinson), who agrees to accompany him to Brighton because musician Paul Weller is performing there. The trip will take several days on scooters, and the pair have little money for food, fuel, and shelter. So John and Nicki stop for help at the homes of Phil’s mod friends (some friendlier than others) and even a Mod bar that he frequented. Soon, John discovers that his father was not that man he thought he was and questions his childhood.
Let’s be perfectly honest. From a storytelling standpoint, The Pebble and the Boy is pretty formulaic. A boy goes on a journey of self-discovery, meets crazy characters along the way, uncovers a dark truth about his past, and comes out a better person in the end. Along the way, he falls in love with a girl. Did I forget to mention the soul-searching walk on the beach set to an emotional rock ballad?
“…John decides to hop on his father’s old Lambretta scooter and travel from his Manchester home to Brighton…”
But writer/director Chris Green does two things to breathe a little originality into the story. The first is setting his tale in the world of Mods. It may not be the most incredible or awe-inspiring of hobbies, but c’mon, biker gangs on scooters! First, these scooters are not your typical Vespas. John’s scooter has about a dozen rear-view mirrors and headlights. This excess rarely seems necessary for practical or safety reasons. Secondly, these Mod enthusiasts are essentially smaller versions of the stereotypical biker gangs/clubs. Like their American counterparts, they are tough, crass, give zero fucks, and have profound insight into life.
The other story element I liked about The Pebble and the Boy was just how dark Chris’ father’s backstory gets. For a light drama, it gets pretty dark with revelations of infidelity, abuse, and assault. The overall story is still light, but the depths of darkness make this drama much more interesting than your typical PG family drama.
But the film suffers from its laid-back performance. This is generally my criticism of most British dramas and comedies. Maybe it’s cultural, but the energy levels from its actors could have been turned up a notch or two or three. The prime example here is McNamee. He’s an introverted, reserved character who goes on this grand adventure, and by the end, he seems to be happier and smiling more. Unfortunately, his character arc is fairly shallow, and unless you go big, it comes off as bland. In contrast, Sacha Parkinson as Nicki brings life to every scene she’s in, but her existence is formulaic, as she’s just the outgoing girl who falls in love with the reserved kid.
Because of its light tone, with hints of darkness, The Pebble and the Boy falls into the feel-good movie category reserved for Hallmark and Lifetime. It’s not a criticism, but I do prefer much more depth in my stories. In the end, it’s a fun tale, and hey, now we know that Mods exist in this world.
"…much more interesting than your typical PG family drama."