Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Review: Beautiful

Dir. Dean O'Flaherty
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 97mins

Sometimes I watch a movie and can immediately tell what the pitch would have been. Disturbia was "Rear Window, but with teenagers!" or Australia was "Gone with the Wind, but with Aussie accents!" Such it was with Dean O'Flaherty's debut film as writer and director, Beautiful. I can picture the meeting now. "So guy, it's Blue Velvet, but with teenagers... and Aussie accents!" Which just makes the movie even more of a disappointment.

There is a good movie tucked away inside Beautiful and it occasionally rears it's head from time to time to perk the viewer's interest whenever it begins to slide due to unnecessary subplots and ridiculous flights of fancy. It is just that it never sticks around long enough to build towards a successful film. In fact, watching the film is a very bizarre experience, indeed. A bizarro-world mish-mash of ideas and images. Not once does O'Flaherty feel the need to explain why every household in the idyllic neighbourhood that the film is set in seem to have 1950s television sets and antique furniture or why characters watch INXS videos of VHS. Nor does he feel the need to rein himself in when in one odd scene his characters appear to enter a silent black and white movie with mock Grindhouse aesthetics.

In the upper-class suburb of Sunshine Hills two beautiful teenage girls have been gruesomely murdered and another is missing. Such is the launching pad for the movie and it's a good one, especially with the incredibly lush cinematography by Kent Smith, in his first feature outing, filling the screen with bright colours with immaculate close-ups and angles. The loner kid of the street is Danny (Sebastian Gregory) who always carries a camera gets tangled up with his not-so-girl-next-door sexual fantasy, Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi), and begins to investigate the goings on at creepy number 46. And all this while dealing with an is-he-isn't-he abusive father (Aaron Jeffreys) and stepmother (Peta Wilson).

If it sounds straight forward enough then you're wrong. Subplots come and go - one involving Wilson's character is particularly awkward - and the lines between myth and reality blur to almost inconceivable levels. The big climax of a twist ending especially feels forced and like a dead weight compared to the quite delicious coda that follows it. That Deborra-Lee Furness has the most interesting character and is really the entire force behind the movie is seemingly not of any worth to O'Flaherty.

Like a lot of Australian genre films the acting is hit and miss. Furness is impressive in her small role while newcomer Gregory has definitely improved since his role in Acolytes last year. Tozzi gives the film's strangest performance, seemingly a mix of five different characters none of which are in the same universe as Beautiful. There's also no denying that there's something frighteningly about her. The hair, the tan, the everything. "Sex bomb" for the Ralph set, I suppose.

The film's biggest strength is it's aforementioned aesthetics. It's so nice to see an Australian film filled with such vibrant images. They are images that deserve better than the screenplay they are servicing. A screenplay that deliberately presents a sort of hyper-stylised version of Australian suburbia, yet one that never connects the dots it laid out in fascinating and beautiful fashion. It's the most disappointing of misfires; One that really coulda been something. As it is, however, Beautiful is a big pretty mess. D+


Syms Covington said...

Kojo have their offset certificate back, what do they care. With all post paid for by them, and Dean an in house staffer, it's practically a profit already.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of the film's $2m budget was actually outlaid and how much were just internal transactions like Kojo's internal post-production budget. Surely, a payment from Kojo to Kojo would have a nil effect on their overall cash flow and yet they still pocket 40% production offset ie $800,000!!!

Glenn said...

Interesting thoughts there. It is funny to look through the movie's credits and see so many who were involved in another Kojo film, 2:37. But, then again, if everything was in house how come the budget was still (apparently) $2m?

Anonymous said...

Glenn, I would think that Kojo overestimated their costs in order to get more from the production offset to at least help pay for the prints and advertising expenditure of the film's theatrical release. Kojo are not paying anyone but themselves. Some of them made a lot of money and who acres if the film is shite. Anyone seen The producers? That's how you make money!

Anonymous said...

Glenn. I'm from SA. The South Australian Film Corp put 400K into the film.

The Project Officer at the Film Corp roomed with Dean OFlaherty, they are friends, and you dont have to be Einstein to see how Government money gets passed along to mates.

Check out the funding for all the films from SA this year. There's a rort going on here in SA.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Hah. This is hilarious. So Beautiful is Springtime for Hitler of the SA production office? Except Springtime for Hitler turned out to be really great!

Marc Fennell said...

Yeah i sat down to watch it the other day and I was so ready to love this film but within minutes it became clear that this was a mish-mash of the Not-So-Virgin Suicides, Australian Beauty and True Blue Velvet. It's beautifully filmed and Peta Wilso gives a gr8 performance but thats about it. most acting is awful with characters just spurting clunky exposition or even clunkier internal monologues. The central character was so passive that he may have been more engaging in a coma. The music was repetitive and irritating the plot was painfully slow building up to a climax that was nonsensical at best, cheap and manipulative at worst and the final 'reveal' was just stupid and handled with all the subtley to a two-year old trying to ram a duplo block into his nose in some misguided attempt at feeding itself. Im gonna be blogging about it soon so backtrack if you want.

Glenn said...

I couldn't get past Peta Wilson's tranny voice. Is that mean? Probably.

Anonymous said...

Marc - Peta Wilson gives a great performance? Are you kidding me? I cannot recall ever seeing someone so awkwardly applying lip gloss in the history of cinema. Not that it was all her fault. The dialogue in her abortion scene was fucking atrocious. I doubt anyone could have made it work. She was only outgunned by the ridiculous "performance" of the Tozzi girl. The whole thing was awkward, banal and most unforgivably, boring. I kept thinking, every time I think I've seen the worst Australian film ever made, another comes along that is even worse.

Anonymous said...

in the year of Baz Luhrmann's Australia and Tony Haye's Ten Empty that's really saying something.

Agent69 said...

I wanna see this, I don't even care if it is a mess, because I need me some Peta Wilson.