With an unexpected day off yesterday, I drove to Seattle to get my art-house movie fix. My Summer of Love came highly recommended, with a few of my filmbuddies even calling it the best film they’d seen this year. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a terrific character study that should be added to the Netflix queue of all self-respecting cineasts.

Luckily, the movie was still playing at the Crest Cinema Center, a Landmark Theater that shows second-run and art-house movies for $3. All I can say is: The Crest Rules!

Read more (minor spoilers)…My Summer of Love, like Wedding Crashers, is a sort of version of The Aristocrats joke. In this case it the alluring rich girl Tamsin (Emily Blunt) who seduces and abuses lower-class Mona (Natalie Press).

Although marketed as a lesbian movie, it is more a story of young love with dark overtones. No innocent, Mona still manages to convince herself she’s found a love that’s pure and true. This misplaced faith, an analog of her born-again brother’s (an under-utilized Paddy Considine), is dashed when it comes into contact with the demonic Tamsin. Director and story adapter Pawel Pawlikowski allows the narrative to meander purposefully towards the powerful final scene, where it suddenly threatens to become Hitchcockian. That it doesn’t is a measure of the uncompromising nature of the film, one that desires only to cut, deeply and repeatedly, to the quick of its characters.

Shot almost entirely with long lenses, the movie has a claustrophobic quality about it. Often you want to reach out and push the characters away. Not because Mona and Tamsin are bothersome, but because you feel embarassed to be so intimate with them. There’s a cruelty at work not only in Tamsin’s manipulations, but in Pawlikowski’s manipulations of audience sympathy. Whether or not you see Mona’s heartbreak coming, she’s can’t help but be a martyr.

I wouldn’t call My Summer of Love any sort of cinematic revelation. It shies too far away, in the end, from the conflict between Mona and her brother. The dialogue is, once or twice, a bit too knowing. The shadow of Heavenly Creatures hangs over it a little too much. Still, rent it. If you must temper its bleakness, do so as a double feature with Wedding Crashers or The Aristocrats.

NEMESIS OPINION: I’ll be first to admit this is one of A.O. Scott’s better reviews.