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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

This Beautiful Fantastic movie review: this ordinary normal

This Beautiful Fantastic yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
An ostensible fairy tale of the creative life in London that tries too hard to be eccentric, while also trying too hard to be grounded and realistic. This is one of those idiosyncrasies that you really can’t have both ways.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

Bella Brown, orphan of unusual circumstance, is, we are informed, “the oddest of oddballs.” Except she’s not very odd at all. She’s a pretty normal woman with a touch of OCD, creative aspirations that she can’t seem to bring to fruition, and an inability to get to work on time. (Those might be unusual characteristics for women onscreen, but they are entirely mundane in the real world. Even for women.) Still, we know that This Beautiful Fantastic is a fairy tale of some stripe because Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay: Victor Frankenstein, The Riot Club) — a woman with, obviously, no family money and who works as an assistant in a library while she waits to sell the book she hasn’t yet written and actually doesn’t even have a plot for — has a whole house to herself. In London. A nicely funky house with a big garden that would clearly rent for at least three times her paltry monthly salary, and yet she still has plenty left over for her kitschy-smart faux Edwardian wardrobe that would probably cost as much again as her monthly salary to maintain. (It’s very easy to be quirky and funky on an apparently unlimited budget. This kind of fantasy is tiresome.)

It’s very easy to be quirky and funky on an apparently unlimited budget. This kind of fantasy is tiresome.
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Also This Beautiful Fantastic must be high fantasy because Bella lets her home and her entire life be invaded by Vernon, refugee housekeeper and cook from Mr. Stephenson (Tom Wilkinson: Denial, Snowden), the curmudgeon next door, whom Vernon fled due to his meanness; Vernon arrives to cook Bella breakfast one day and basically never leaves, and that’s not creepy at all, amirite, ladies? It’s true that Vernon is Andrew Scott (Swallows and Amazons, Alice Through the Looking Glass), who is absolutely adorable when he’s not playing a villain, but still: I don’t think writer-director Simon Aboud (this is his second feature) has the first clue about women, or even about being a writer, even though he clearly is one himself. (Real writers are bursting with ideas, for one, not unable to find them.)

Bella doesn’t seem to have any female friends, but never fear: she’s got plenty of men around to be her champions.

Bella doesn’t seem to have any female friends, but never fear: she’s got plenty of men around to be her champions.

As a woman, an oddball, and a writer myself, I struggled to find anything here that might speak to me.

Toss in also-adorable Jeremy Irvine (The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, The Railway Man) as Billy, a wacky inventor type as forced-quirky as Bella, someone for her to take inspiration from, and, well, there’s still nowhere near enough fairy-tale weirdness in This Beautiful Fantastic to overcome the feeling that the movie is trying too hard to be eccentric, while also trying too hard to be grounded and realistic. This is one of those idiosyncrasies that you really can’t have both ways: Aboud gives himself too big of a safety net for too limited a flight of fancy, and there’s only very small satisfaction to be found in that. Worse, he’s given us a man’s fantasy of a supposedly appealingly kooky woman, one who is barely deviates at all from conventional expectations. I liked Bella a lot, but there’s nothing particularly outré or uplifting about her.


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yellow light 2.5 stars

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This Beautiful Fantastic (2017) | directed by Simon Aboud
US/Can release: Mar 10 2017
UK/Ire release: direct to VOD

MPAA: rated PG for some thematic material and language
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language)

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    A lot of stories dealing with writers portray the affair as a quest for that One Brilliant Idea.

    Maybe the discipline of sticking backside to chair, and not playing about on the net, until you’ve written your 3,000 words for the day doesn’t make for such good film. Maybe it’s a fantasy for writers that if only they could get a good enough idea all the hard work would go away.

  • Danielm80

    But honey…when I slept with that other woman, it was research!

  • A lot of stories dealing with writers portray the affair as a quest for that One Brilliant Idea.

    That’s true. And they’re often unsatisfying stories too!

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