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flick pick | Beautiful Girls 1996
Directed by: Ted Demme
Written by: Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Michael Rappaport, Uma Thurman, Natalie Portman, Mira Sorvino, Annabeth Gish, Lauren Holly
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: lovey, nostalgic, witty
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis In a small, snowy New England town, struggling musician Willy [Hutton] has returned home from New York City for his ten-year high school reunion. He doesn’t come back often – life with his widower father and weirdo brother in this go-nowhere, do-nothing town being just a tad depressing – but with thirty fast approaching and his life at a standstill, Willy feels like he’s at the crossroads. If he looks in one direction, he sees security, a marriage to current girlfriend Tracy [Gish], a solid sales job, and the drudgery of a sensible adult life. And in the other direction lies the eternal promise of the dreams of youth: vague but beautiful, shining with the allure of potential, crystallized in the snow-stomping, quip-talking form of an extraordinary 13-year-old girl named Marty [Portman], who lives next door to his dad. His old buddies – whether they’re as aware of the dilemma as Willy is or not – find themselves faced with similar growing-up quandaries. Tommy [Dillon] struggles with how to deal with his mess of a love life – juggling a relationship with sweet adoring Sharon [Sorvino] and an affair with his now-married former high school sweetheart Darien [Holly], Tommy knows the right thing to do, but can’t quite bring himself to part with that side of himself that reminds him of his glory days. Model-obsessed Paul [Rappaport], meanwhile, stubbornly and happily stuck in arrested adolescence, has just gotten dumped by his long-time girlfriend, who’s finally given up on waiting for a commitment and headed straight into the arms of a 40-year-old meatcutter. In short, they’re men trying desperately to cling to the last vestiges of boyhood – and slowly, very slowly, coming to terms with the idea that reality might not live up to their teenage fantasies, but it can be beautiful all the same.

Review Beautiful Girls isn’t so much about beautiful girls, as it is about the boys who moon over them, so caught up in the quest for some perfect-10, centerfold ideal of womanhood that they barely notice the perfectly amazing real-world women who patiently put up with all their can’t-commit, won’t-grow-up nonsense. More generally, though, it’s a movie about that vast gulf that frequently exists between adolescent dreams and grown-up reality – but what the final message is regarding which one wins out in the end isn’t entirely clear (this, to me, is what makes the movie interesting). It’s funny, but while I’ve loved this movie from the first time I saw it — I’m ever the sucker for a good character-driven, comedic-dramatic ensemble piece, and with excellent performances by Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Michael Rappaport and a breathtakingly lovely young Natalie Portman, along with some delightfully snappy dialogue and two very memorable monologues, Beautiful Girls is certainly one of my favorites — it used to make me sad to think that in the end, each of the character’s settles for something somewhat less than s/he really wants. The men settle for women less exciting than they might have hoped; the women settle for men who aren’t smart enough to see their many merits from the get-go, but instead have to be persuaded. They all settle for the ordinary rather than chase the extraordinary; love is nice, but not heart-wrenchingly romantic, comfortable, not exhilarating. So maybe it’s a comment on which end of the quasi-adult continuum I’m leaning towards these days, but when I watch this movie now, it seems so obvious: it isn’t about resigning yourself to accept less than what you thought you wanted, but about letting yourself be happy with the wonderful things you already have. —reviewed by Y. Sun

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