Timothy Hutton and Natalie Portman star in BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, directed by Ted Demme for Miramax Films.

Beautiful Girls (1996, Ted Demme)

Of the principals, only Michael Rapaport is under thirty (Beautiful Girls hinges on a ten-year high school reunion) and much of the running time can be spent wondering how the viewer is supposed to believe Timothy Hutton isn’t thirty-five years old (he’s actually thirty-six). Hutton gives one of the film’s best performances, frequently transcending the script and its severe deficiencies (almost every event is a sitcom trope). His best scenes are with Noah Emmerich (whose performance is shockingly broad, even in this cast) and Natalie Portman. In their scenes together, both Hutton and Portman stumble through the awkward dialogue and create the film’s only (comparatively) honest relationship.

That relationship doesn’t have to be too real, since every other one in the picture is a hackneyed mess. Screen-“writer” Scott Rosenberg seems to fancy himself a more WASPy Kevin Smith with all the pop culture references. Only Ted Demme’s incredible direction–and it really is fantastic in every area except the film’s writing–saves the film. Besides Demme’s fantastic choice of look and sound for the picture (Adam Kimmel’s photography and David A. Stewart’s score), he also gets a lot of solid little moments in. Max Perlich has almost no function in the script, but under Demme’s direction, his occasional asides are some of the best moments in the film. Rosie O’Donnell basically gets a couple big monologues (I believe these were ghost-written for her; Rosenberg’s unabashedly sexist script doesn’t indicate he’s a feminist), but has some good little moments as well.

Beautiful Girls‘s greatest failings are all script-related, but having some terrible performances doesn’t hurt much either. The three worst performances are from Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman and Lauren Holly. Holly’s got what’s probably the film’s most difficult role and instead she plays it like a poorly articulated mannequin. I know I just got done complementing Demme with actors… but Holly doesn’t have any room for asides. Her character’s all epical, as is Dillon’s. Dillon’s so goofy in the film, it’s like he’s lampooning a former teen actor who can’t catch a break. His character is terribly written (none of the main characters make any sense being in their late twenties… it’s clear they’ve only existed since the end of the opening logo), but even so… Dillon still does a real bad job. Both he and Hutton lower their voices to make them gruff for whatever reason. Hutton it doesn’t work with, but there’s a still a performance backing it up. Dillon doesn’t have that luxury.

Thurman actually should be all fluff material, but the script places so much weight on her character, it’s hilarious to watch her. She’s absolutely incapable of creating even the semblance of a human being. Every one of her scenes is painful to watch.

The best performance is probably Mira Sorvino. She doesn’t have much of a character, but Sorvino essays the role brilliantly.

Otherwise… I guess Martha Plimpton and Pruitt Taylor Vince are both okay. They aren’t bad and they don’t embarrass themselves (why Miramax put Rapaport in this one, I can’t even imagine–he doesn’t have an honest second here).

The only real draw is Demme and his superior talent.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Demme; written by Scott Rosenberg; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by David A. Stewart; production designer, Dan Davis; produced by Cary Woods; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Matt Dillon (Tommy), Michael Rapaport (Paul), Martha Plimpton (Jan), Mira Sorvino (Sharon), Lauren Holly (Darian), Timothy Hutton (Willie), Annabeth Gish (Tracy), Natalie Portman (Marty), Uma Thurman (Andera), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Stanley), Anne Bobby (Sarah), Rosie O’Donnell (Gina), Noah Emmerich (Mo) and Max Perlich (Kev).

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