Willie (Timothy 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 a deep funk) and all of his friends are having relationship problems. Willie strikes up a friendship with a young girl named Marty (Natalie 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.
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg was living in
The friendship between Willie and Marty pushes the boundaries of what is comfortable in a comfort movie but it never goes beyond it.
In addition to the clever plotting,
All of the guys in Beautiful Girls are essentially the same person. Willie is just finding his luck, Paul just lost his luck as the movie begins, Tommy loses it over the course of the movie, and Mo has already found and achieved it with his family. Demme does not waste an opportunity to subtly illustrate his point. In one scene, he frames all three guys together: Paul (lost luck) is driving with Willie (finding luck) and Mo (achieved luck) along for the ride. The women counterpoint their men in this cycle: Tracy (Annabeth Gish) for Willie, Jan for Paul,
The women in the movie are smarter than the guys and make them (and us) feel like they are lucky that their behavior is even tolerated much less loved despite all of their failings. This is epitomized in Gina (Rosie 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 men'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.
Ted Demme assembled a fantastic cast of independent character actors for his movie: Michael Rapaport, Max Perlich, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Mira Sorvino to name only a few. They all work so well together and their friendships are believable because of the preparation the director made them do. He had the entire cast come to
The setting is a character unto itself. Demme has set his movie in a charming east coast hamlet that is filled with little diners and bars that look so inviting that you want to go there, you want to be there. It all looks so comforting, so inviting and this is so hard to achieve properly in any movie. He commented in an interview that he "wanted to make it look like it's Anytown
Beautiful Girls received mixed reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars and wrote, "What's nicest about the film is the way it treasures the good feelings people can have for one another. They emerge most tenderly in the friendship between Willie and the 13-year-old girl." In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "But Beautiful Girls doesn't strain to accentuate the positive all that often. Thanks to those actors and to Scott Rosenberg's easygoing, colorful dialogue, it stays nicely inviting most of the time." In his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote, "Portman, who made such a precocious splash in The Professional, reprises her fledgling sassiness in cuter form. As a self-described ‘old soul’ who connects spiritually with Hutton (they're both existential searchers), she's the movie's most poignant and witty presence."
The Los Angeles Times' Jack Mathews wrote, "Beautiful Girls follows the boys as they work their way through these crises, and it's about as much fun as a neighborhood bar on a Tuesday night. Its crisis: not much happening." Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C+" rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "There is absolutely nothing going on in Beautiful Girls that you haven’t seen in Diner, Singles, or any other artistic endeavor in which untethered young men and women, bound by geography and fortified by beer, shamble their way toward overdue maturity."
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
Alexander, Peter. "Scott Rosenberg: Off to a Beautiful Start." The Best Video Guide.
Griffin, Dominic. "An Interview with Ted Demme, Director of Beautiful Girls." Film Threat. 1996.