Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Beautiful Thing (1996)
Sandra: It's not natural, is it?
Jamie: What ain't?
Sandra: A girl her age being into Mama Cass.
Leah: She's got a really beautiful voice.
Sandra: And what's wrong with Madonna?
Leah: She's a slut.
Sandra: Hypocrite.- Linda Henry, Glenn Berry, Tameka Empson
Stars: Glenn Berry, Scott Neal
Other Stars: Linda Henry, Scott Neal, Tameka Empson
Director: Hettie MacDonald
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, pervasive strong language, and some drug content
Run Time: 01h:31m:05s
Release Date: 2003-05-20
DVD ReviewBeautiful Thing follows a budding romance between two teenage boys living next door to each other in a London hi-rise as they gradually come to grips with their feeling for one another and take a few tentative steps into their new lives. While it's nice to see such a relationship normalized on film, it's actually the least interesting part of the movie. The colorful supporting characters steal every scene they're in. Teen love feels like a big deal only to teens, and the portrayal here is lightweight and by-the-numbers, significant only because the two who fancy each other happen to be of the same gender.
Jamie (Glenn Berry) is a quiet, introspective lad who'd rather watch an old black-and-white melodrama on TV than play football. Ste (Scott Neal) is well-liked for playing sports at school, but his home life is turbulent. After he is beaten up by his alcoholic father and brother (again—his body is already covered with ugly bruises), Jamie's mother allows him to stay over and sleep in Jamie's bed. The two quickly discover their attraction to one another—they share a tender moment when Jamie rubs pain cream onto his friend's bruised back—and they begin to tentatively explore their sexuality.
Their romance is presented simply and sweetly, but it doesn't really ring true. The actors do a fine job selling that they are teens in love, and their attraction is scripted much the way a heterosexual one would be, fueled by hormones and heightened emotions. But once they are together, and they accept that they are gay, the film loses track of their story. They both seem to be totally in the dark about what it means to be gay, and Jamie has to read Gay Times magazine to find out about a local gay bar where men put on drag shows and the two can feel accepted. The end of the film hits a false note when the two display their affection in public, and the moment is nice emotionally, but awkwardly staged and out of place in the narrative.
Amidst all the sincere, longing looks between the boys is a much more interesting film. Jamie's mother Sandra (Linda Henry) is a fascinating, truly genuine character. She's a young mother—she's 35 with a 17-year-old son—and seems to have raised him well enough. They have a sort of grudging respect for one another that allows for lots of swearing and arguments, but she obviously loves her son and wants the best for him. She dreams of one day managing her own pub, and goes about flirting with her interviewer to get the job. She's dating Tony (Ben Daniels), a hippie who drives around in a VW minibus and tries very hard to bond with Jamie, though he's rather clueless. Leah (Tameka Empson) is Jamie's other neighbor, a loud-mouthed teen whose obsession with Mama Cass has left no time for schoolwork, who wryly observes Ste's comings and goings out of the apartment and plays The Mamas and The Papas at all hours and high volume.
The supporting characters bring the film to life, and seem to add depth to the gay romance by setting it in a world that feels populated by real characters. Director Hettie MacDonald, working on a small budget from a British television station, gives her characters plenty of room to breathe and develop, making up for some of the false notes in Jonathan Harvey's script (based on his stage play).
Beautiful Thing played to good reviews at the 1996 Cannes film festival, and was even named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the top gay and lesbian-themed films of the 1990s, but I believe the distinction says more about the state of queer cinema than the relative merits of the movie. Films dealing with GLBT themes, and particularly such films produced by gay and lesbian creative teams, have long been suppressed by Hollywood production codes and general prejudice (and it's interesting to note again that Beautiful Thing was produced for British television). From what I've gathered from courses in feminist films and film censorship, only in the last 15 years has there been a real step forward in terms of how gays and lesbians are portrayed in films, and we're still at a point where even the sweet, banal romance of Beautiful Thing feels refreshing and genuine.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: For a low budget film, Beautiful Thing's anamorphic transfer doesn't look to bad, but it's inconsistent. Some brighter scenes look rather nice, with strong, natural colors and nice detail. Others look washed out and grainy (though some of this disparity may be directorial intent). Darker scenes are problematic—blacks tend to look a little grey and shadow detail is poor. Despite some occasionally glaring edge enhancement, there's still more good here than bad, but it's still just an average transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered is rather flat stereo, though the track is an adequate match for an undemanding film. The dialogue is a bit muffled, and considering the accents are already a little tough to make out, that's a problem. The soundtrack is mostly just talking, but there are a few scenes that make good use of tunes from The Mamas and The Papas, and the songs add a nice bit of depth to a mundane mix. It's always a bit disconcerting when dialogue is split between two speakers, so watch this one in Pro-Logic if you can.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Celluloid Closet, All About My Mother, The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy
Extras Review: No extras (and I really could have used subtitles to help discern all the Brit slang and the heavy accents), but Columbia TriStar has included trailers for The Celluloid Closet, All About My Mother, and The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy. Subtle.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThis enjoyable but largely unremarkable romance is notable only because the young lovers both happen to be boys. The story is a typical "coming out" affair, and the leads are sincere, but the supporting players are more interesting and offbeat—I'd rather see a movie about them. Columbia TriStar's DVD is fine, despite an average transfer and a lack of bells and whistles, but it's pricey enough that I can't recommend anything more than a rental.
Joel Cunningham 2003-06-08