Sunday, 25 December 2011

"Beautiful Girls". A Review Of The 1996 Film Now Reissued On A 2011 BLU RAY.

"…Let's Walk This World Together…"

A should-be-doing-more-than-this-with-his-life Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) takes a wad of crumpled notes out of a beer glass - slurps down his last whiskey of the night and closes the lid on the bar's battered upright piano. With his dollar tips firmly wedged in his pockets, he then trudges through the cold streets of New York heading for the Port Authority building on 6th Avenue.
Onboard the Greyhound bus and bound for his hometown in Massachusetts, he looks out through the neon-reflected glass and ponders what lies ahead. First will be his slightly loony family (Robert Bright and David Arquette play his monosyllabic Dad and simpleton brother) and worse – a high-school reunion full of memories, achievers and awkward questions. The big city boy who left Hicksville in the dust finally returns triumphant...or maybe not…

But while the seasons change in snowbound Knight's Ridge – it seems little else does. Willie is met at the other end by his sorry-assed crew of former college buddies. Paul obsesses over his ex-vegetarian girlfriend Jan who is are now dating a meat-cutter (Michael Rapaport and Martha Plimpton) while his best buddy Tommy pushes a snow plough in suburban driveways which he quickly follows with some pushing of another man’s wife (Matt Dillon and Lauren Holly). Watching all of this from the sidelines is Maz Perlich as the permanently squinting hat-wearing Kev who doesn’t seem to want much from life except maybe a beer with his mates and a good hot meal - while the unexciting but steady Michael (Noah Emmerich) is a genuinely nice guy trying to hold down his job and keep his marriage together. Even Willie’s 13-year neighbour (a cleverly cast Natalie Portman) acts weird towards him – developing an instant crush on the thirtysomething to the point where she asks him to wait 6 years until she's 18 and they can "...walk the world together…" Willie is so confused about his place in life and women in general - at one point - it’s an offer he seriously considers…

Then there are the other side of the relationship coin – the town’s long-suffering women. Michael’s wife is Sarah (a lovely Anne Bobby) - who is ever understanding and supportive. In fact most of the ladies of the town seem to exude stoical patience - they simply sigh and put up with their men’s shortcomings and immaturity. Miro Sorvino’s character Sharon loves Matt Dillon’s character Tommy - but dies inside just once too often as he deposits his cockiness in someone else’s bed. Michael Rapaport’s character Paul festoons his walls with pictures of lingerie models because he is convinced they represent some kind of love nirvana – ladies who can do no wrong and bring only joy into your life simply because they’re "…beautiful girls".
The scene where Rosie O’Donnell bawls out the boys in a supermarket about obsessing over these fake fantasies in glossy magazines – is both brilliant and ball-breakingly funny. She makes a good point too. The boys do need to "...get a grip!"

And into this heady mix is thrown some genuine temptation – a visiting Uma Thurman who effortlessly knocks all the boys for six (even the faithful ones) as she wanders into their regular waterhole Stinky’s bar (Pruitt Taylor Vince). The habitual womaniser Tommy and smooth musician Willie fancy their chances with her – while the less-attractive boys just fancy her but would never have the nerve to do anything about it. There later follows some delicious dialogue moments - Hutton’s character half-heartedly wooing Thurman in the bar and ice-hut afterwards – and especially when Hutton is sparring with Natalie Portman about how she will grow up anyway and have a great life with her own memories to savour (even at 13 she showed extraordinary star quality and acting chops).

But when Willie's classy girlfriend Tracy finally flies in from New York to meet his family – she quietly wows them all. In fact they want to touch Willie to see how in God’s name he got this lucky – she’s a lawyer, she’s warm-hearted, she’s got the ‘boob thing’ going – Tracy is a catch and the clan Conway knows it (a lovely turn from Annabeth Gish). So Willie finally has to be mature now and decide…and on it goes to a wholly satisfying ending…

Directed by TED DEMME and written by SCOTT ROSENBERG - as you can see from the names above – this 1996 movie featured an extraordinarily good ensemble cast – and each of them given real meat to work with. It was popular at the time – effortless hip too – and is a smart choice for reissue on BR.

Transfer-wise - the BLU RAY picture is defaulted to fit the entire screen and is a vast improvement over the DVD (even if the opening credits to David A Stewart’s score contain a few scratches and glitches). Once it gets to the snowbound town – day or night – the clarity is lovely and blemish free and really adds to the film’s homely vibe. The outdoor sequences on the ice-rinks are particularly clear and eye-catching. It’s a damn shame there’s no extras though – a real let down.

To sump up - “Beautiful Girls” doesn’t really seem to be about anything in particular, but nonetheless you enjoy its company immensely. It’s like a good night out with the boys – or girls – or preferably both. “Beautiful Girls” is like life itself – enjoyable one moment – heartbreaking the next. It’s just working out which one to side with…

Recommended.

PS: Blink and you’ll miss it cameo is by JOHN SCURTI as a Greyhound Bus Ticket Dispenser at the beginning of the movie (barely gets 2 lines). He later became the leading character Kenny Shea in Denis Leary’s superlative “Rescue Me” TV series about New York firemen post 9/11.

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