This Beautiful Fantastic

2017-06-15 09:53

What it's about:

Bella Brown is an idiosyncratic young woman, trying to make ends meet, as she works on the children's book that she can never quite compete. When her cantankerous next door neighbour starts to pester her about the state of her garden, the two outsiders start to become increasingly involved in each other's lives.

What we thought:

This Beautiful Fantastic is the sort of film that would be all to easy to pick apart if it weren't for just how likeable and charming the whole thing is. Put on a “critical hat” and the film's self-knowing quirkiness, its obvious character arcs and its obvious and oblivious sentimentality become all too clear and all too easy to damn the film for indulging in such “indie dramedy” pitfalls but it's so big-hearted and its characters so charming that, for all but the most churlish among us, that particular hat will spend the entire duration of the film in a dustbin outside the cinema.

Writer/director Simon Aboud has, to date, made a career out of short films, a late-period Paul McCartney music video and a single feature called Comes a Bright Day that I'm reasonably sure never troubled cinemas in this country so it's not surprising that This Beautiful Fantastic has the feel of a debut feature of a filmmaker still trying to find their feet but doing so with plenty of that old charm and heart. It's undeniable that some of the writing is extremely wobbly (an incredibly silly “plot twist” towards the end is especially groan-worthy) and there isn't much in the way of a truly individualistic vision here but a bit of naivety and an utter lack of cynicism goes a long way here to elevate the film way beyond any failings it may have. Well, okay, except for that “twist” towards the end there, which really is almost astoundingly daft – and the fact that I predicted it and, at the same time, really, really hoped the film wouldn't go there, certainly doesn't make it any more forgiveable.

Enough about the negatives, though. The film has been described as a “fairy tale” by some, which is interesting since the film is almost entirely lacking in fantasy and, on the surface at least, is as grounded as – though undeniably far lighter and more playful than – your average “kitchen sink drama”: that distinctly British subgenre that immerses itself in gritty, working-class reality. And yet, there is something of the, dare I say it, magical about it. If you can accept a bit of gardening as a stand in for an epic quest and a dorky inventor of mechanical birds as a most unlikely wizard, it's hard to entirely deny the fairy tale comparisons. Seen through this lens, it also makes the film's flimsier contrivances and predictability all that more acceptable. 

And yet, for all of that, the film is still grounded by its characters and the predictable but undeniably lovely bonds they form with one another. It's also here that Aboud's green-around the ears “noobiness” gets counterbalanced by a brace of confident performances. Lending support are top “where have I seen them before” British character actors like Andrew Scott and Anna Chancellor but, really, This Beautiful Fantastic is all about the performances and wonderful on-screen chemistry between Jessica Brown Findlay and the ever-terrific Tom Wilkinson. You know exactly where their relationship is going from their very first encounter but that inevitably only makes the bristly rapport between them all the more delightful.      

And “delightful” really is the keyword here. Yes, there's loads wrong with This Beautiful Fantastic and I can even see it really, really rubbing the more cynical among us the wrong way, but put it this way: In a week where we have the utterly uncinematic, d-grade trash of Hunter's Prayer on the one hand and the, I hate to say it, creatively bankrupt and cynical Cars 3 on the other, isn't there something to be said for the unassumingly delightful stylings of Aboud's sophomore film? I certainly hope so. 

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