(Air Date: Week Of 10/16/96)
The ingredients in Beautiful Thing aren't exactly a sure-fire guarantee for commercial success. Sure, it's British, and British is in, as evinced by the trans-oceanic popularity of recent films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Cold Comfort Farm, and Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies. But there are no familiar names or faces in Beautiful Thing to ensure an easy draw -- no charming, blush-easy Hugh Grant, and no established filmmaker with a portfolio of solid art house successes. Cast members hail from British theatre and television, and Beautiful Thing has wazzu a first-time movie director, Hettie MacDonald, and first-time screenplay writer, Jonathan Harvey. They were director and writer of the play Beautiful Thing, on which the film is based, a 1994 theatrical hit in England.
Beautiful Thing is a teen love story and family drama taking place in a sort of bucolic, but humdrum, working class, housing project in Southeast London. Not a lot of cachet to that either -- but here's the final strike, you're out-- the teenagers who fall in love are two sixteen- year-old teenage boys, Jamie and Ste.
So Beautiful Thing had just better be good-- right? Not a problem. The appeal of this film is guaranteed by its warmly humorous enactment of the universal struggle to find identity and acceptance; by its witty, but true-to-life dialogue; and by characters that get under your skin. Jamie is the dreamy, outsider teenaged boy who doesn't like sports and has no friends. At the center of Beautiful Thing is his single mother, Sandra, a sharp-tongued, upwardly mobile barmaid with a smartly decorated apartment, and dreams of owning her own bar. Belting out the unadorned truth is her speciality-- but no one's maternal instincts are more easily aroused than hers.
That's why she invites the athletic Ste, who lives next door, to stay Jamie and her when his drug-dealing brother and abusive father give him a rough time. And that's when Jamie and Ste uncover their feelings for each other in the most natural and -- trust me -- romantic way possible. When they talk about a girl, is goes: "D'you fancy her?" "No. Do you?" "Never gave it much thought". On the more comic end of the spectrum is Sandra's latest boyfriend, Tony, a younger man and, neo-hippie -- Jamie warns him he'll be discarded like the others. Then there's sixteen year old Leah, an out of control, West Indian, misfit, whose only pleasure in life is emulating Mama Cass of the Mamas and the Papas, and the songs of Mama Cass are featured throughout the film.
Beautiful Thing is obviously not your every day, garden variety film, but you can see those any time. It's a visceral, unsentimental, and funny movie, whose very specific setting and events expand to create a world.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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