January 21, 2006
Starring: Matt Dillon, Noah Emmerich, Annabeth Gish, Lauren Holly, Timothy Hutton, Rosie O'Donnell, Max Perlich, Martha Plimpton, Natalie Portman, Michael Rapaport, Mira Sorvino, Uma Thurman, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Anne Bobby, Sam Robards, David Arquette, ,
There is something about turning 30 that makes one re-evaluate their life. It is that time when you are forced to grow up, find direction, settle down and become an adult. Beautiful Girls (1996) concerns a group of men faced with this dilemma. They have been living in the past and recent events have forced them to confront it head on. This is also the late director, Ted Demme’s best film in an all-too brief career.
Willie (Hutton) returns to his small, Northeastern hometown for his ten-year high school reunion, hook up with buddies and get his life in order. His mom has recently died (leaving his younger brother and father in deep funk) and all of his friends are having relationship problems. Willie strikes up a friendship with a young girl named Marty (Portman) who has moved in next door. She is a character out of J.D. Salinger short story – wise beyond her years. Marty sets the tone for the rest of the women in the story. They are all intelligent and end up suffering with men who don’t appreciate what they have right in front of them.
The friendship between Willie and Marty pushes the boundaries of what is comfortable in a comfort movie but it never goes beyond it. Rosenberg’s script is smart enough to be self-aware of this and even addresses it in a scene between Willie and Mo (Emmerich). Fortunately, the movie narrowly avoids letting things get too uncomfortable and therefore taking us out of the captivating spell established by the movie. It also avoids clichés like the beautiful Andrea (Thurman) having sex with one of the guys. Instead, she rebuffs them all because she is loyal to her boyfriend. She is not a perfect ideal, just on another level than these guys.
In addition to the clever plotting, Rosenberg’s script also features a lot funny, memorable dialogue. Tommy (Dillon) chastises Paul (Rapaport) for getting his on again-off again girlfriend, Jan (Plimpton) a brown-colored diamond when he tells him, “Buddy, you been eating retard sandwiches.” There is also great throwaway dialogue like Stinky (Taylor Vince) with his proprietor lingo, “We got apps!” or the often-used word “crease” to convey frustration at something, like when Tommy asks, “What’s got him creased?”
The women in the movie are smarter than the guys and make them (and us) feel like they are lucky that they are even tolerated much less loved despite all of their failings. This is epitomized in Gina (O’Donnell)’s famous monologue where she chastises Tommy and Willie for obsessing over the women in Penthouse magazine. She tells them, “If you had an ounce of self-esteem, of self-worth, of self-confidence, you would realize that as trite as it may sound, beauty is truly skin-deep.” Gina speaks for the women in the movie when she reminds the men to forget the airbrushed ideal of women that we see in magazines and movies. They do not exist or are unattainable to any normal guy.
To counter her argument, later on in the movie, Paul delivers a monologue defending man’s idealization for the impossibly perfect image of women. “She can make you feel high full of the single greatest commodity known to man -promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow.” It is a rare, articulate moment for Paul, suggesting that he may be more than some lunkhead who drives a snowplow. He may actually be a romantic. It is nice to see a film that is obviously told from a man’s point of view trying to show both sides of the argument.
The women in the movie are not treated like excess baggage. They all have a soul and a brain which is rare for a film written and directed by men. There is a tendency to make them perfect or marginalized with their problems defining them. This is not the case with Beautiful Girls. This is reversed and it is the problems that define the men.
The film does not wrap everything up nice and neatly. Paul and Jan’s subplot is not resolved in the sense that we don’t know if they settle their differences and get back together. Tommy and Sharon (Sorvino) will probably get back together but it is not spelled out. Instead, as the closing credits appear we are left to imagine what happens to the characters. It is Paul’s parting comments to Willie as he is about to go back to New York City, “Come and see us any time, Will. We’ll be right here where you left us. Nothing changes in the Ridge but the seasons.” This is also a message to the viewer as well. Come back and see Beautiful Girls again. The film’s world and its characters are comforting and making you want to revisit them again and again.