Aurelien Noblet on Simon Aboud’s ‘This Beautiful Fantastic’ (2016)
This Beautiful Fantastic feels like being spoon-fed sweet honey to the point of sickness. What could have been an endearing tale of love and friendship is rather an achingly predictable film that manages to tick most of the wrong boxes.
The film tells the story of reclusive young woman, Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay), who as a baby was abandoned in a park and then raised in a Catholic orphanage. She grew up to be an odd and somewhat displaced character with OCD who is afraid of the things in nature — foliage, dirt and branches. After receiving a complaint from her cranky neighbour (Tom Wilkinson) about her neglected garden, she is threatened with eviction if she doesn’t clear it up by the end of the month, a task made difficult to someone who has a dislike of horticulture since being abandoned in a forest at an early age. The film has been branded “a modern fairytale”, a film genre with far-fetched fantasies, but this cannot dismiss the incredulity of This Beautiful Fantastic.
Wilkinson is delightful as ever in the role of the grumpy neighbour, Alfie. His apparent toughness and lack of social diplomacy conceal the heart of a dying man who, despite his hurtful remarks, tries to inculcate manners and sophistication to his carer Vernon, played by a drowsy Andrew Scott. Jessica Brown Findlay plays the main character Bella, who could have been a great independent heroine who takes her destiny into her own hands.
But like her namesake in the Twilight franchise, she ditches her self-determination for a cute guy. The celebrated Amélie (2001) is a clear inspiration for the film, both following an equally quirky young woman in a film with an introduction that establishes all of the charming everyday eccentricities. Only that, unlike Amelie, Bella beings to forget her particularities as the inconsistent plot progresses and men come to plant their roots. There is a huge potential for Bella to be a singular, comedic character, but the director has failed to seize this opportunity. Rather, she remains a stereotyped and, at times, unbearable character to watch.
The garden, which functions as a metaphor for life, could have been a perfect playground for each and every character to connect and thrive, but this thematically central location is actually given little time to blossom. Instead, the entire male cast, with the exception of the platonic and fatherly Alfie, revolve around her orbit with unconvincing psychological motivation. Each one attempts to teach Bella how to grow flowers, but also how to grow as a person, putting a fragile, naive woman at the behest of more learned men. Billy, played by the heartthrob Jeremy Irvine, embodies this tendency of the male the right to “fix” the opposite sex. At this moment, this “male saviour” agenda is hardly the message that young women need to hear.
This Beautiful Fantastic is showing from 19th February.