This Beautiful Fantastic movie review: this ordinary normal

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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.
tweet

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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RogerBW
RogerBW
Mon, Mar 12, 2018 2:28pm

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
Danielm80
reply to  RogerBW
Tue, Mar 13, 2018 11:48am

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

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Tue, Mar 13, 2018 4:13pm

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!

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  RogerBW
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

How ever did writers find ways to procrastinate before the Internet? Oh, yes, many of them became alcoholics…

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  RogerBW
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

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.

If you adjust the plot description a little, it made for one of my favorite episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show (and an okay episode of The Big Bang Theory). Apparently the life of a writer is best summed up by a 22-minute sitcom.

jamie
jamie
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

This review echoed many of my own thoughts after seeing this movie! The characters just weren’t developed well enough for me to believe in them.