Some films try too hard. They may be inventive, fun, flighty and kind of clever, even charming in their forced eccentricity, but it is forced nonetheless. Not cynical, don’t get me wrong, but enough to make you aware a structured story is playing out and the growth in the characters is going to be solidly linear. Oh, and they may even have a grumpy oldster you are supposed to loathe, slowly softening toward the real heroes (the young), and then conveniently exiting the scene just as you think its time they exit the scene. Such is the way of This Beautiful Fantastic.
But to the plot, first. Jessica Brown Findlay, always balancing beauty with quality character work in everything old Jack here has seen her in, plays uptightly-odd librarian Bella. She’s on a curve somewhere, ordering books, knowing secret sections, ordering her food and her thoughts. Except, in a plot-necessity of illogic, the garden to the flat she rents. The flat is perfect, the garden a discarded mess of foliage strong and weedy. Up pops the landlord to give her notice for ignoring said green hell.
Oh, and she needs meaning in her solitary life. So, things look promising when the bitchy old bastard who lives next door instigates a row and his lovely cook starts helping her out (in the kitchen, the garden is her problem).
JBF majors on the odd here, all haircut, cute clothes and angst. Andrew Scott is terrific as Vernon, the supportive cook. Tom Wilkinson is as believably grouchy as neighbour, bully and, yeah, yeah, saviour Alfie. The latter challenges Bella all the way through her gardening, teasing respect for its beauty from her just as the plot introduces a superfluous romantic subtext with inventor-Bella-alike Billy (Jeremy Irvine giving early Hugh Grant).
And, for us, Bella grows and relaxes as this small group of oddballs become the family she has always needed. Most scenes have a gentle comedy. Most interactions have a kitsch kind of honesty to them. And you just know that the old bloke is going to exit left in a moment of late-arriving emotion. Which kinda pissed me off. Cos, you know, does it always have to feel that the old have to die for the young to properly bond around the inheritance he’s left behind? it’s not a massive theme in films, but, fuck me, does it feel like a familiar trope.
Yeah. Old Jack said ‘trope’, get over it.
There is an attempt at surprise in this linear sweetness. For a few scenes, we are asked to believe that Billy is a disappointing dick. And Bella gets on with her stuff whilst dealing with his apparent dickery. Whole moments of not-quite-so beautiful fantastic roll by as the garden blooms (that’s a metaphor, by the way, for Bella’s personal developme- oh; you knew?). And, then Alfie looks queasy, Bella arrives at normal, and the oldsters with me in the TV room looked at one another, got up, and went to their wet rooms for Sunday shower time.
Visually delightful, quaint, kitsch and putting way too much effort into being quaint and kitsch, This Beautiful Fantastic uses its old person to be a shit then an absolute dear. So, a framing device for the quaintness of the young folk. But you’ll like where Bella goes and every single performance.