A rare, non-moralizing look at growing up working-class Irish in the Bronx, “Beautiful Kids” spotlights a likeable trio of slackers whose alcoholism and drug use are treated with a casual acceptance that’s worlds away from the coolly distanced voyeurism of Larry Clark’s “Kids.” “We had no idea what we were doing” said co-director Mike Carty of the $15,000 feature and, in this case at least, ignorance was bliss as script reps astonishing integrity and a total lack of artifice. Pic’s zero-budget look, raw mini-DV camera work and engaging but largely amateurish thesping make “Kid” a hard sell, though fest exposure could win it a slot on indie cable.
Ironically, scripter Carty is a not a professional writer, while others on the credit roster are: Co-director Colum McCann is a well-known Irish scribe, and Frank and Malachy McCourt, engaged here as actors, are major literary celebrities. While Malachy is known for his numerous past character turns, the convincing performance of bestselling “Angela’s Ashes” author Frank as a good-for-nothing drunk comes as a surprise.
Pic opens with two under-the-credits, out-of-sequence scenes: A man and woman squabble over the last rock of crack, and a large brawler smashes up a car with a baseball bat amidst generalized head-bashing mob mayhem.
By the time these semi-horrific scenes fall into sequence, however, they seem normal as they fit into the cyclical arc of the film. Story traces three friends who meet as young kids when their parents leave them in a neighborhood bar and who grow up to haunt that bar themselves.
Sean (Dan Brennan), the central character and sometime designated narrator, despises his father for his drunken neglect of the family. He sees no relationship between his all-night partying with pals and his father’s sodden sullenness, and the rest of the family isn’t much better off. The oldest brother, a cop, attends AA and soon will have sired six kids under the age of 5. The middle son (John “the Terror” Carty) is an angry, overweight and destructive alcoholic. Only 13-year-old sister Linda (a luminous Halley Wegryn-Gross) seems unscathed by the family curse.
Auto mechanic Sean spends his free time getting high on beer or grass or coke or all three simultaneously with childhood buddies Rock (Javier Pire) and Bridgette (Christie Myers). The three experience brief glimmers of self-awareness, occasionally wondering if there’s something wrong with their lives, but figure they can reform when they hit 30.
Finally, Sean hits an impasse: inspired by his love for a childhood crush (Kate Forsatz), an upwardly-mobile non-drinking girl who has briefly returned to Greenwood from San Francisco, he decides to change his ways — after one last run.
When, at film’s close, Bridgette has a baby and both Sean and his father seem to be reformed, the cozy family picture still holds hints of future disaster. Father and son cross, discreetly carrying liquor bottles.Film’s tone is unique in the affectionate latitude it offers its damaged characters. Pic’s oddly serene yet ironic sense of addictive destiny is perhaps best summed up when anti-smoking Linda picks up Bridgette’s baby and takes it onto the porch, but then puffs on a purloined cigarette.
Image quality and lighting are fairly crude, yet somehow in keeping with the barroom environs. Editing is crisp and focused, the mini-DV camera adroitly capturing action with none of the hand-held St. Vitus Dance “immediacy” associated with Dogmatic realism.