×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘This Beautiful Fantastic’

An "Amelie"-like heroine presides over some terribly twee whimsy in Simon Aboud's sophomore feature.

With:
Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Davies.

There are no puppies, kittens or baby bunnies in “This Beautiful Fantastic.” That said, however, any restraint before the altar of adorableness is abandoned in writer-director Simon Aboud’s sophomore feature. Its heroine is so Amelie-like that she’s clad and coiffed like that pixie queen’s separated-at-birth English Rose twin. This winsome comedy may lack Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s high cinematic style, but it does hit the same general mark — which is to say, a sweet spot for some viewers that might induce sugar shock in others. Those seeking twee will get their fill when Samuel Goldwyn distributes the film Stateside, presumably later this year.

A foundling dumped as a babe in a banana crate — like Moses, but wackier! — on a Hyde Park orphanage stoop, Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay of “Downton Abbey”) grows up “the oddest of the odd,” a misfit whose threadbare social skills and peculiar habits suggest mild Asperger’s with major OCD and a minor in agoraphobia. But this is the kind of movie in which mental health issues aren’t treated as such, but rather as mahvelous eccentricities that separate life’s more precious snowflakes from the sane, dreary, interchangeable and fully functioning rabble.

Every workday, Bella brings her saucer eyes and vintage blouses to a London research library where she’s terrorized by a control-freak boss (Anna Chancellor). At least she’s comfortable among the books, her private ambition being to write and illustrate a children’s tome. At home, her compulsions toward habit and order have led to extreme neglect of the rental flat’s rear garden. This is seized upon by next-door neighbor Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), a stock grumpy old man particularly bent out of shape when his abuse of genial young housekeeper/cook Vernon (Andrew Scott) sends the latter into Bella’s employ out of spite. Nonsensically blaming her for his narrowed culinary options, Alfie complains to Bella’s landlord, who gives her a month to restore the ruined garden or face eviction.

Hay fever-afflicted Vernon can be of little help in this endeavor, and our heroine must overcome her terror of unruly, dirty nature to brave even picking up a pair of pruning shears. But it turns out that Alfie, who’s more bark than bite, is an expert gardener who’s lured to offer instruction in exchange for a chance to again taste his ex-employee’s cuisine. Naturally, Grumblestiltskin eventually blossoms into a big ol’ love under prolonged exposure to Bella’s personal sunshine, while she sheds daunting mental hangups because, well, it’s convenient to the plot.

At the same time, she gets a suitably adorable romantic interest in Billy (Jeremy Irvine), a shambling library patron whose profession appears to be “maker of whimsical mechanical animals.” You can tell they’re made for each other — they’re the only two people here who have model-perfect looks yet act like knock-kneed wallflowers. It’s rather a surprise when they manage an actual first kiss; one expects them to rub noses.

Everything about “Fantastic” is designed to charm, and its success in that respect will depend upon the viewer’s susceptibility to cuteness and contrivance ladled on with some proficiency but no subtlety whatsoever. Despite the story’s surface idiosyncrasies, what’s underneath is a formulaic crowd-pleaser at its most basic, with Aboud’s script hitting a couple shameless notes of artificial pathos while heading exactly where you expect. The one-dimensional characters hardly tap the cast’s resources — it’s particularly dismaying to see Wilkinson essaying this uninspired rendition of a hoary stock figure — but they meet their minimal challenge with professional aplomb.

Unsurprisingly, the packaging for this “contemporary fairy tale” is all soft focus. It gets little weird in d.p. Mike Eley’s unexplained blurry closeups of flora — is this meant to be the perspective of a far-sighted Bella? — but otherwise hews to the expected cozy-whimsy aesthetic in visual design and musical contributions.

Film Review: 'This Beautiful Fantastic'

Reviewed Jan. 12, 2017, at Palm Springs Film Festival (World Cinema Now). Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Samuel Goldwyn Films release (U.S.) of an Ambi Distribution presentation of an Ipso Facto, Smudge Films and Constance Media production. (International sales: Ambi, Beverly Hills.) Producers: Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi, Christine Alderson, Kami Naghdi. Co-producer: Matt Treadwell. Executive producers: Iliane Ogilvie Thompson, Jennifer Levine, Phil Hunt, Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Compton Ross.

Crew: Director, writer: Simon Aboud. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Mike Eley. Editor: David Charap.

With: Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Davies.

More Film

  • oscar nominee predictions 2019

    'Roma,' 'A Star Is Born' Poised to Lead Oscar Nominations

    Things got ugly this awards season, enough to give you pause about what might still lie ahead once Oscar nominations are announced next week. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” etc. But as the phase one dust finally begins to settle, what does the landscape look like? On the heels of [...]

  • Oscars Predictions 2018 Illustration

    Academy Awards: Final Oscar Predictions in All Categories

    Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Below are In Contention’s final predictions in all 24 categories. Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” lead the way with 10 expected nominations apiece, while we forecast eight for Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” and seven each for Damien [...]

  • Zach Barack Spider-Man

    Transgender Actor Zach Barack Joins Sony's 'Spider-Man: Far From Home'

    Newcomer and transgender actor Zach Barack appears in a ground-breaking supporting role in Sony/Marvel’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” sources confirm to Variety. Barack can be seen in the new trailer, which was released on Tuesday. More Reviews TV Review: 'Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes' Album Review: Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ [...]

  • A Quiet Place Roma Jack Ryan

    'A Quiet Place,' 'Roma,' 'Jack Ryan' Among Golden Reel Nominees for Sound Editing

    The Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) announced nominations for its 66th annual Golden Reel Awards Friday. On the film side, “First Man,” Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” “A Quiet Place” and “Roma” led the way with three nominations each. Musical dramas “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” received two, as did “The Favourite.” More Reviews [...]

  • Nick Redman

    Nick Redman, Documentary Filmmaker and Soundtrack Producer, Dies at 63

    Nick Redman, Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker, award-winning soundtrack producer and co-founder of the Twilight Time video label, died Thursday afternoon, Jan. 17, at a Santa Monica Hospital, after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 63. He was nominated for an Academy Award as producer of the 1996 documentary “The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage,” [...]

  • Nicky Jam Bad Boys

    Reggaeton Star Nicky Jam Joins 'Bad Boys' Sequel (EXCLUSIVE)

    Reggaeton sensation Nicky Jam is set to join the cast of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s upcoming “Bad Boys” sequel, “Bad Boys for Life.” Jam, who will play one of the villains in the Sony pic, joins series newcomers Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Jacob Scipio, DJ Khaled, and Paola Nuñez. Joe Pantoliano will return [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content