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Beautiful Girls

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Beautiful Girls

Starring: Matt Dillon, Noah Emmerich
Director: Ted Demme
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: February 1996
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

From the opening scene in a late night diner, BEAUTIFUL GIRLS appears to be DINER II. Again we have the banter of a bunch of young men in their 20s whose lives revolve around male bonding rituals. When they meet each other, they grunt like squealing pigs and run at each other in order to smash shoulders together. Gosh, what fun we males have.

Any movie like BEAUTIFUL GIRLS that frequently uses loud rock music to fill in the gaps in the dialog makes me suspicious. The sometimes insightful, sometimes ridiculous, but highly uneven script by Scott Rosenberg needed all of the help it could get I guess. Let me say upfront that this is not a bad movie overall, and there are many characters in it I liked a lot and wish I could have seen even more of, but too many were caricatures of people I would be happy never to have known. With better editing (Jeffrey Wolf) and directing (Ted Demme) the movie could have survived the script, but alas it was not to be.

Tommy (Matt Dillon), Kev (Max Perlich), and Paul (Michael Rapaport) are blue collar workers who make extra money during the winter as snowplow operators. They are also best buddies with Mo (Noah Emmerich) and Willie (Timothy Hutton). Surprise, they have trouble relating to people of the opposite sex although, of course, they manage to have little trouble having sex with them. As Paul puts it, "They're all sisters. It's one big conspiracy. Trust me." In an example of how the script is all over the map, in another scene we have a wise Paul advising his friend on choosing a wife, "One comes to a decision based on what one wants, not on what one doesn't want." In another he is back again to balderdash with, "A beautiful girl is all powerful and that is as good as love gets."

In hands down the best part of the movie, Willie forms a strong platonic relationship with a 13 year old girl next door named Marty short for Martin and played in a wonderful, wise, and witty performance by Natalie Portman. Although it may sound like a Lolita role, actually it is quite innocent and realistic of the crush that young girls can form. Here the script is at its best, giving her one funny line after another. Marty is fond of tall tales, and Portman is great at delivering them. The best scene of the show is when Willie tells Marty their relationship will not work. Very poignant.

Like the guys in the movie, some are interesting and some aren't. Mira Sorvino plays Tommy's girlfriend Sharon. I liked her role here better than the one in MIGHTY APHRODITE that got her an Academy Award nomination. She clings to Tommy no matter how much he cheats on her with his now married ex-girlfriend. Sharon tells him, "How can I get to you when the high point of your life was high school? You were king of the hill then." When her love life with Tommy starts falling apart, she tells her girlfriends, "Why is it when a relationship doesn't work, we say its because he can't commit? Don't I bear some of the blame here?" A sad, but realistic performance of how some people can become obsessed with others when evidence tells them it is a bad idea.

One of the least interesting roles is that of Gina Barrisano (Rosie O'Donnell). She has to utter one preposterous line after another. A typical one is, "You guys, as a gender, will have to get a grip, or the future of the human race is looking down." At least she manages to say such gibberish with a straight face.

In a show where some of the twenty year olds have families, but children are treated as creatures rarely seen or heard. It is surprising, therefore, that one of the most touching scenes occurs when a little girl asks her Daddy what is going on.

Beside Sharon and Gina, the other women in the movie include Jan (Martha Plimpton), Darian (Lauren Holly), Andera (Uma Thurman), and Tracy (Annabeth Gish). Gish doesn't appear until the last part and is mainly wasted in the film. She is a talented actress who does manage to make her little part special. When her boyfriend Willie wants to give up his poorly paying career as a pianist and become a salesman, she advises him, "I don't think you should take that job. Piano players are sexy, salesmen are uncles."

The worst part of the show is the way it treats alcoholism. Everyone of the buddies has major alcohol problems as do many of the females, but in the film they drink like fish and yet it rarely affects their actions, speech, or abilities. The message of the movie seems to be that young people drink constantly, but somehow this represents no problem to them or their lives. The insidious message for all of the teenagers who will see this film is that heavy drinking is natural, everybody does it, it is required for proper bonding, and anyway, there are no consequences to worry about. Given the stars, the demographics of the audience will be heavily tilted toward those most vulnerable to alcoholism. Scary.

Finally, there are great visuals. One of my favorites is a huge Saint Bernard sitting up in a pickup between two of the buddies while on their snowplowing adventures. The cinematography (Adam Kimmel) has some great scenes of a small Northern town in the snow. The most beautiful scene is a time-lapsed sequence of the snow capped town as night turns to day. The sets (Dan Davis) are accurate reproductions of the claustrophobic clutter of worthless nicknacks from blue collar homes.

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS runs 1:53. It has no sex or nudity but a little violence. It is rated R, and whereas I would like to think the MPAA is punishing the film for its flippant treatment of alcoholism, actually I think it is because there are a couple of uses of the F word in a film mainly of fairly mild language. I would want to talk to teenagers about the dangers of drinking if they do see this show. It is a close call, but I am not recommending the film. Some characters were great, namely Willie, Tracy, Marty, and Sharon, but the others made me almost ashamed to be a member of the male sex. I do not blame the actors, but I do hold the screenwriter and the director accountable. Oh well, there is a lot of potential not quite realized here; maybe next time. Finally, I award the show **.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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