Nobody does twee quite like the English, especially when it comes to stories about innocent romance, cantankerous old men who turn out to have hearts of gold, and neglected gardens begging to be restored to blooming beauty. This Beautiful Fantastic covers all of that ground and then some as it introduces viewers to Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay, aka Downton Abbey’s beloved Lady Sybil), a librarian/aspiring children’s author who suffers from a variety of afflictions — a bit of OCD here, a little nature phobia there — that are all portrayed, in typical cinematic fashion, as charming quirks rather than potentially debilitating conditions.
But we readily forgive that minor infraction thanks to the movie’s strong cast, sweet story, and winning cinematography and production design. Bella’s crotchety neighbor — and eventual gardening mentor when her landlord demands that she clean up her ramshackle backyard or face eviction — is played by the incomparable Tom Wilkinson (who also does a bit of voiceover narration explaining orphan Bella’s origins and dislike/mistrust of all things organic and disorderly). And an unexpected but welcome ally comes in the form of single dad Vernon (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott), an accomplished cook who flees Wilkinson’s abrasive Alfie but has a soft spot for the old fellow in the end.
Bella finds romance in the form of Billy (Jeremy Irvine), a frequent visitor to the library where she works for the extremely strict Bramble (Four Weddings and a Funeral’s very own “Duckface,” Anna Chancellor). He beguiles her with the graceful, beautiful mechanical bird he’s been building, inspiring her to finally tell the children’s story she’s been struggling with. Like an early spring flower, Bella blooms eagerly under the warmth of Billy’s affection — but, like the overgrown garden she fights hard to tame, matters of the heart can be tricky and prickly. This Beautiful Fantastic’s charm lies in its ability to take this wee, twee story about misfits, connection, and community and help shape it into a lovely bit of entertainment. — Betsy Bozdech:
Team #MOTW Comments:
Anne Brodie: Major British stars Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott and Tom Wilkinson come together in this marvellous modern fable. The great dialogue, sophisticated sense of irony and whimsy is cinematic rest for weary adult minds as a poet finds ways to live a richer life. Brilliant!
Jeanne Wolf: Yes, it’s corny. Yes, it’s old fashioned. Yes, it’s sooo sweet. And it is totally fantastic. This Beautiful Fantastic is a tonic of a movie. See this film and I guarantee smiles. Hankies are recommended. You need to see this one.
Sheila Roberts: Writer-director Simon Aboud’s romantic indie drama, “This Beautiful Fantastic,” is a delightful, stylish fairytale fable of four spectacularly quirky characters who form inspiring friendships while pursuing their dreams. The pitch perfect cast includes “Downton Abbey’s” Jessica Brown Findlay, the always superb Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, and Jeremy Irvine.
Jennifer Merin: With cinematography straight out of an impressionist painting, this wonderfully poetic fantasy/drama/romance of a film will inspire all who have artistic aspirations to overcome the creative blight caused by the ‘how can I possibly do that?’ bug. Full of spirit and fully entertaining!
Cynthia Fuchs: “What can I say? There was nothing normal about the girl.” So announces Alfie Stephenson (Tom Wilkinson) at the start of This Beautiful Fantastic, ensuring that Bella Brown will be utterly endearing, if quirky. Her crotchety neighbor calls her “the oddest of the odd,” but you know that’s code for “adorable.” Indeed, the opening montage offers Bella first as an adorable infant rescued by ducks, then an adorable child who, according to Alfie, has ” a preoccupation with order.” By the time Bella appears as an adorable young woman (Jessica Brown Findlay), her “fantastic” course is set: she’ll be making friends with Alfie, finding a boyfriend (Jeremy Irvine), and reminding you of all those other adorable girl movies starring Jean Seberg, Goldie Hawn, Audrey Tatou, and Zooey Deschanel. If she’s not precisely a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Bella is in the ballpark. A writer and an artist, Bella works in a bookstore and tends to her garden, keeps color-coded toothbrushes for each day of the week and appreciates exotic birds. As detailed as her idiosyncrasies might be, none is especially surprising, and this raises a question: as the odd movie girl becomes mundane and formulaic, maybe we need a new name for her formula?
Title: This Beautiful Fantastic
Director: Simon Aboud
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Running Time: 108 minutes
Principal Cast: Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson
Screenwriters: Simon Aboud
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Thelma Adams, Anne Brodie, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Jeanne Wolf, Dorothy Woodend
Written by Betsy Bozdech, edited by Jennifer Merin, social media by Sandra Kraisirideja