There are several beautiful girls in “Beautiful Girls,” but they, along with the guys, are stuck making a lot of mundane moves. A great title in search of a movie to live up to it, this startlingly uneventful compendium of thick-headed boy-talk and female tolerance squanders a fine cast on incredibly ordinary characters and situations. Allure of the title and sexy thesps should give Miramax all it needs for a strong opening in wide release, and its appeal as a date movie with college-age auds could sustain it for a decent B.O. ride thereafter.
Certainly many young men will not be able to resist checking out a film that hints at being a contempo sexual roundelay and co-stars, for starters, Uma Thurman and Mira Sorvino. Unfortunately, the setting is not New York City or any glamorous equivalent, but a stuck-in-the-snow New England burg where most of the action takes place in taverns and union lodges. The characters all have limited prospects, and the picture is proscribed along with them.
Willie (Timothy Hutton) is a semi-successful NYC club pianist who returns to working-class Knight’s Ridge, Mass., for a high school reunion. His “nice” girlfriend, Tracy (Annabeth Gish), a lawyer, will be joining him in a few days, but in the meantime he catches up with old buddies Tommy (Matt Dillon), Kev (Max Perlich), Paul (Michael Rapaport) and Mo (Noah Emmerich). For all of them except the last, who’s married with kids, it’s been downhill since high school, as they plow snow for a living and knock back Buds at night.
Tommy is going with the sweet Sharon (Mira Sorvino), but still carries on with his first love, Darian (Lauren Holly), who’s married but continues to want action on the side. The particularly immature Paul, who has a thing for supermodels, has just been given the heave-ho by waitress Jan (Martha Plimpton), so when he gets the chance, he flaunts in front of her the fabulous Andera (Uma Thurman), cousin of local barkeep Stinky (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who happens to be visiting town.
Willie is also taken with Andera, but is actually more intrigued by a new next-door neighbor, the precocious and tease-talking Marty (Natalie Portman), a tantalizing 13-year-old on the cusp of flirtatious adolescence, who prompts Willie to think some untoward thoughts. Rounding out the main crew is Gina (Rosie O’Donnell), a brash, self-styled shrink who comforts the women in their romantic frustration and puts the guys in their place.
The talk in Scott Rosenberg’s script is almost single-mindedly about sex and relationships, redundantly and routinely so. This straitjacketing of the film’s concerns prevents the characters from assuming anything beyond one dimension, and while they are positioned as thoroughly working-class, they rarely discuss their jobs, situations in life, prospects, dreams or anything but the opposite sex.
Rosenberg’s script for the current “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” reveals a distinctive and lively voice, but the only time anything similarly notable crops up here is in the unusual running scenes between Willie and Marty. Usually speaking to each other fleetingly in the cold outdoors, the pair develop a sort of combination Romeo-and-Juliet/Humbert-and-Lolita complex, with each actually calculating the possibility of waiting five years until Marty comes of age. Their edgy and poignant encounters are given a big boost by the mesmerizing , quicksilver work of young actress Portman who, having already worked in “The Professional,””Heat” (as Al Pacino’s daughter) and the upcoming Woody Allen pic, is obviously on the fast track. She reps the single best reason to see the film.
Hutton is easygoing and likable in the nominal leading role, while Thurman has no trouble making her dazzler dazzling. Remainder of the cast is far underutilized in superficial roles.
Director Ted Demme brings no special storytelling pizzazz to the table, and 110 minutes is too long to spend with such uninteresting characters. Craft work is competent, and snowy Minnesota locales fill in acceptably for Eastern seaboard setting.