Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Directed by: Simon Aboud
Starring: Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson, Jeremy Irvine
Quirkiness is not always a bad thing. Just ask Wes Anderson, Bryan Fuller or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. But when that quirk is all that there is, then you have a problem.
Let me tell you about This Beautiful Fantastic.
Bella Brown (Jessica Brown-Findlay) is an orphan, who works in a library and writes children’s books in her spare time. She’s a solitary creature, beset with an array of compulsions (OCD is never mentioned by name but strongly implied), the biggest of which is an aversion to greenery. This has caused her garden to become a state, a fact that riles her curmudgeonly neighbour so much that he gets the landlord involved. Bella is given an ultimatum – clean up her garden within one month or find herself homeless.
Whilst Bella is ostensibly the main character, there isn’t anything to her except her (cinematically cute-sified) OCD. She is mainly defined through her relationship to three men: Vernon (Andrew Scott), a widowed cook who responds to Bella’s small act of kindness by effectively pledging his undying loyalty; Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), the aforementioned curmudgeonly neighbour who mellows within minutes; and Billy (Jeremy Irvine), a mad inventor who charms Bella by eating pickled eggs in the library where she works, brazenly flouting the rules of her strict boss Bramble (Anna Chancellor).
Every misunderstanding in This Beautiful Fantastic is solved through some contrivance or offhand, offscreen comment. A love interest’s apparent betrayal was down to his triplet. A menacing landlord is calmed by a word from Alfie. The loss of a job doesn’t have any real affect other than to allow more time for swanning around in the garden. Bella doesn’t even have to solve her messy garden problem by herself; she has her three adoring servants to help her. Forget low stakes, in This Beautiful Fantastic there are no stakes.So all we are left with are the kooky inhabitants of this whimsical world. OCD is a debilitating real-life condition, but in this movie Bella’s manifests solely in eccentricities like a different toothbrush for every day of the week, a prison-level number of locks on the door, and selective eating habits. And of course, she writes her children’s book on a typewriter. Jeremy Irvine’s maddeningly mannered performance as Billy the wacky inventor is enough to inspire teeth-grating. Andrew Scott and Tom Wilkinson’s characters come off slightly better, but they’re still beset by clichés (how often have we seen the ‘curmudgeon-with-a-heart-of-gold’?).
This is not a film that even threatens to allow any of the real world in. These people are not people, they are anthropomorphised piles of quirks. It’s impossible to take them seriously. Their problems are so insignificant, so easily solved, that you can’t invest in them. If This Beautiful Fantastic was not blessed with a largely talented cast, it would be nigh on unwatchable.
In Tom Wilkinson’s opening voiceover, after setting up Bella’s story, he asks ‘Why am I wasting your time with all this worthless tittle-tattle?’. As the closing credits rolled, I was none the wiser.