This Beautiful Fantastic (2017) Samuel Goldwyn Films/Comedy-Drama RT: 100 minutes Rated PG (some thematic material, language) Director: Simon Aboud Screenplay: Simon Aboud Music: Anne Nikitin Cinematography: Mike Eley Release date: March 17, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA) Cast: Jessica Brown Finley, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Davies, Sheila Hancock, Mia Farkasovska.
This past weekend, audiences flocked to the live-action remake of the animated Disney classic Beauty and the Beast to the tune of $170 million. As I’m sure you know, it’s about a girl named Belle who tames a beast and teaches him to love. A movie called This Beautiful Fantastic also opened (in the Philadelphia area) this past weekend. It’s about a girl named Bella who also tames a beast. Both are fairy tales. One is set in a fantasy world; the other takes place in a fairy tale version of the real world. I doubt that many people will see This Beautiful Fantastic since it’s unlikely that it will expand beyond the arthouse circuit. That’s too bad because it’s a delightful little movie.
Bella (Findlay, Downton Abbey) is an odd duck. Is it because she was tended to by ducks after being abandoned as an infant? Could be. She’s taken to an orphanage where she’s raised by nuns. She grows into a quirky adult who works at a library until her yet-to-be-written children’s book is published. She dresses like a suffragette from the early 20th century. Her kitchen cabinets are neatly organized. She’s very precise about what time she starts to eat. She checks her door about a dozen times before she leaves for work. The girl obviously has OCD even though nobody actually comes out and says it. She also has an irrational fear of plants and flowers which is why she let the garden of her rented house fall into ruin. This raises the ire of curmudgeon next door Alfie (Wilkinson, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) who reports her. She’s given 30 days to restore her garden to its former glory or else she will be evicted.
Bella has a few men in her life. Her cook Vernon (Scott, Sherlock), a widowed father with twin girls, used to be employed by Alfie but he got tired to the verbal abuse and defected to Bella’s. His hay fever prevents him from being of much use in the garden restoration project. She starts becoming close to Billy (Irvine, War Horse), an eccentric inventor who spends a lot of time at the library doing research and violating their strict food and drink policies. At one point, he takes her to his place to show her the mechanical bird he built.
In this tale, Alfie is clearly the beast. He growls and hurls insults. He treats everybody horribly. It’s Bella who finally soothes the savage beast when she convinces him to help her fix the garden. She has no idea what she’s doing; he has the greenest of green thumbs. Alfie comes to care about her, even loaning her a book he’s never let out of his possession before.
Okay, This Beautiful Fantastic doesn’t earn points for originality. It’s a lot like 2001’s Amelie starring the wonderful Audrey Tautou. Gardening is obviously a metaphor for life and love. The story is completely predictable. The characters and situations are familiar. We know that by the end, a new family unit will form around Bella. We also know that a certain character will meet a sad fate. It doesn’t deviate at all from the formula. It’s okay though because This Beautiful Fantastic is completely charming, a total feel-good flick. I almost hate to admit it- on second thought, no I don’t- but This Beautiful Fantastic won me over quickly.
Findlay is very good in the lead role even if her character behaves inconsistently. For somebody who lives for order, she’s late for work an awful lot. It doesn’t quite add up but so what? Wilkinson does a fine job as the cranky next door monster who transforms (figuratively, of course) into a prince of a guy. Then again, he’s usually good. Irvine does well as Bella’s love interest; he’s as odd as she is. Scott is also good as the cook who does more than prepare meals. He’s also Bella’s protector. She’s the kind of girl that all guys want to protect because she’s so adorably awkward and helpless. This Beautiful Fantastic is a very colorful movie. The shots of different types of flowers in all colors are simply gorgeous. It’s just a nice light-hearted little movie, a sweet concoction that goes down as easily as strawberry tea. It’s cute, funny and life-affirming. Even if you know the story pattern by heart, This Beautiful Fantastic will grow on you.