I mentioned the challenge where my colleague Lisa gives me a movie to watch and I give her one to watch. As of right now this challenge is pretty one-sided since, as of this writing, she hasn't watched a single movie I've offered up to her but here I am jotting down my notes on this movie 'Beautiful Girls' from 1996. Is this the kind of movie I'd normally watch? Hell to the no, but that's why it's called a challenge. I will say that I did enjoy this movie much better than my last challenge, that movie being High Fidelity. I know, right?
Life for Willie (Timothy Hutton) hasn't been all he's expected it to be, so the piano playing lounge lizard is heading back home to Nowhere Massachusetts to sort some things out. His friends will be of very little help in assisting Willie in this task.
Tommy (Matt Dillon) won't be able to help since Tommy's glory days began and ended in high school. Yes, Tommy is dating the lovely Sharon, who looks just like Mira Sorvino, so you think that would be just awesome for a guy who shovels snow for a living… a seasonal gig if ever there was one… but it's not. Tommy is too busy having an affair with his old high school girlfriend Darian (Lauren Holly). Gotta say, from where I'm standing Tommy looks like he's doing pretty good for a guy that shovels snow for a living, but Tommy is a hot mess.
Paul (Michael Rappaport) certainly can't offer any clarity, even though he does provide this movie with the majority of its memorable lines. Paul is trapped in adolescence, and has been neglecting his longtime girlfriend Jan (Martha Plimpton) who has left him. He wants her back, she doesn't want him, he reacts poorly to this. He shovels snow too. Just like their other friend Kev (Max Perlich). Don't know what anyone in this town would do for money if it didn't snow.
Mo (Noah Emmerich) should be able to offer some clarity for Willie as he is happily married to Sarah (Anne Bobby) and has two precocious kids… but according to Paul, Mo is kind of retarded. He doesn't know that he's miserable, even though he isn't.
The most level headed person Willie meets is probably Marty (Natalie Portman), his cute thirteen year old neighbor. She has all kinds of wise things to say. So impressed by this child, Willie even floats out that he's willing to wait on her to grow up and stuff. Kind of in jest. Kind of not. Mind you, Willie does have a girlfriend in Tracy (Annabeth Gish) who seems to really have it going on, but Willie is ambivalent about her. That's not good. And Tracy is coming down for a visit.
Now we can't neglect the Beautiful Girl, that being cousin Andera from Chicago just visiting. A representation of everything every one of these maladjusted children in the bodies of men can possibly envision. She doesn't want them though. But, she does offer Willie the best advice. But it's up to Willie to make up his own mind. Hopefully his ultimate decision doesn't involve any thirteen year old girls. Keeping our fingers crossed.
Directed by the late Ted Demme, I will readily admit that I'm a little surprised at how much I enjoyed 'Beautiful Girls'. A character study about a group of maladjusted adults, none of whom on the surface who are particularly endearing, is normally the kind of anguished drama that I would normally cry foul on, but possibly to what I can only attribute to a stellar combination of direction and acting, none of these characters upset me. In fact, they were presented in a way that was semi-relatable. Perhaps not specifically relatable, but who can't somehow connect with a person who feels as if life has passed them by in some way?
It's actually clever the way that it was accomplished, when you step back and take a look at it. Almost all the main characters are very familiar caricatures. The Jock, the Family Man, the Boor, with the Regular Guy in the center. Even our women, Natalie Portman's character as the Kid Wise beyond Her Years, Rosie O'Donnel playing Salty Mama, and Uma Thurman as The Beautiful Girl are really caricatures, but somehow the actors got inside these caricatures and fleshed them out, made them real people, people that despite the bad decision made here or the stupid thing they said there… you still manage to generate some empathy towards them.
Two things stand out, soliloquies delivered by Rosie O'Donnel decrying the fantasy of beautiful girls and one delivered by Michael Rappaport extolling the fantasy, represent in a nutshell… not only the joy of this film… but also precisely what this movie is about. There's also a scene where Tommy absorbs an ass whipping, much deserved, but I even enjoyed that scene as a representation of the violation of the bro-code. Not that we are defending that beat down that Tommy got, very much deserved, but four on one? Come on man.
We're not trying to tell you that 'Beautiful Girls' is a perfect film. It is filled with caricatures saved by very good actors, and it is painfully formulaic and predictable, but this is one of those rare occasions where these well-worn parts fit together to form something that almost feels new. Heck if I know how Ted Demme pulled this off, and unfortunately my man isn't talking. Good movie though.