Film review – Beautiful (2009)

Danny (Sebastian Gregory)
Danny (Sebastian Gregory)

Beautiful starts promisingly. It begins with a series of stylised shots of Australian suburbia and a haunting narration about a recent spate of young girls being kidnapped and murdered. The tone is set for a gothic suburban fairytale, heavily evoking David Lynch‘s masterpiece Blue Velvet and other films that depict the dark side of middleclass suburbia such as American Beauty, Happiness and Donnie Darko. However, as the film progresses it becomes clear that writer/director Dean O’Flaherty is not so much influenced by Blue Velvet for his début film, but has attempted to directly mimic it in terms of characterisation, narrative, symbolism and style. The film centres on 14 year-old Danny who, like Kyle MacLachlan’s Jeffrey Beaumont character from Blue Velvet, is part detective and part pervert – secretly spying on his neighbours in order to impress the 17-year-old Suzy, a Lolita who lives next door. O’Flaherty’s attempt to depict Australian suburbia as a seedy hotbed of sexual deviancy, under the veneer of respectability, is a tedious and contrived attempt to replicate far superior American films.

Apart from being so derivative, a massive problem with Beautiful is its horribly written dialogue. Instead of using actions, acting and visuals to provide story and character information, Beautiful has everybody speak in contrived and obvious statements. The very first conversation in the film features Danny’s father preaching to him the importance of conformity with lines such as, “You’ve got to learn to be like everyone else”. The audience are treated like idiots who wouldn’t understand any thematic nuances or character dynamics unless they are spelled out through blunt dialogue. Furthermore, the film is repetitive and many of the scenes between Danny and Suzy seem to rehash the same ground over and over again.

Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi) and Danny
Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi) and Danny

Beautiful is not a complete write off as  blatant use of Lynch motifs aside, the cinematography is often impressive. The young television actor Sebastian Gregory is also very good as Danny and somehow rises above the substandard material that he is given to work with. Beautiful eventually does arrive at a point where it nicely critiques the way that modern paranoia about crime, terrorism and sexual predators have created a new type of destructive urban mythology. However, it is a very arduous journey in getting to that point.

At a time when Australian cinema is frequently and often unfairly under attack, it seems a shame to come down so hard on any locally made film. However the fact that Beautiful is such a poor film cannot be ignored and pretending that it is worth seeing would only further discourage audiences who already go to see Australian films with some reluctance.


© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. The first part of the film actually reminded me of 2:37, another film by an Adelaide director.

    I can see why many don’t like the film, but I have a different take. Australian films are a niche market; even mainstream films rarely get a screening outside of an arthouse cinema. The marketing line about being a cross between Lynch and Almodóvar is just that, a marketing line and really doesn’t do the film justice.

    The characters in the film and their dialogue seemed to me to be straight out of Hollywood teen horror flicks. I can’t take it seriously as adult drama/thriller and to represent it as such does it no justice. Screening at arthouse cinemas, this film is not going to be seen by those who are most likely to enjoy it: the teen market.

    The film did nothing for me, and I pretty much agree with your summation. I found the sound design lacked subtlety and the dialogue mediocre, but there were some good moments. But I’m convinced that this film is missing its market, and those who are seeing it are not going to give it good word-of-mouth. It’s too juvenile.

  2. Hi Paul and thanks for dropping by!

    I actually haven’t come across any marketing for Beautiful so I wasn’t aware that they were promoting it as a cross between Lynch and Almodóvar. That is terrible. But I still maintain that the film really is heavily derivative of Blue Velvet, which is a film I know really well having written my honour thesis on it many years ago (one day I’ll get around to uploading that here).

    Speaking of bad marketing, The Combination, another Australian film, is suffering the same fate. The horrible faux gangster poster that has been used to promote it is no doubt turning away a lot of people who would have otherwise seen it.

    Back to Beautiful – I really don’t even think a teen audience would enjoy it. I think they’ll be both bored and annoyed by how ‘try-hard’ it is.

  3. CINEMA AUTOPSY EDIT – Spoiler warning

    I do think the story could have been explained or explored a bit more – the motives behind Suzy’s faked kidnapping and whether Danny’s father is a paedophile and the story about Danny’s mother. There’s also a scene with a paedophile father and his daughters that was left hanging there. There’s so much that could have been done with all the subplots.

    I do think the part where the woman up the street ends up being Danny’s mother is really contrived and far too coincidental. If she was really his mother then she might have recognised him or something. I mean she was living in the same street after 14 years, that’s a bit too coincidental.

    The story was good though and quite original and I quite enjoyed it. I don’t know what they could have done to make it better; maybe stop trying to copy Blue Velvet and make it more Australian or something, I don’t know.

  4. I agree with you about all the unresolved issues. I actually found the film to have several unnecessary and distracting subplots and questioned why there were even there in the first place.

    Spoiler warning
    I may be mistaken, as I’ve already started to forget about the details of this film, but wasn’t the point of the ending the fact that the woman at the end of the street wasn’t actually Danny’s mother and he simply drew that conclusion due to his paranoia and overactive imagination?

  5. CINEMA AUTOPSY EDIT – Spoiler warning

    Since Danny’s father was troubled by the ‘drug overdoze’ of his wife 14 years earlier & obviously hid the fact from Danny and never spoke about it or let Danny know, the connection of Danny thinking the woman in No:46 was his mother was the similar bracelet she showed him in the kitchen scene that was in the photos he often looked at hidden in his fathers bedroom drawers (where his mothers face was torn out)…hmmmm!!!

  6. I really wanted to like this movie. It started out with a good storyline, and great cinematography. I get the ambiguous nature of the film, but the contradictions through out troubled me. I found myself guessing what the writer/director was trying to get across. He did give some things away, because in editing he realized that there where some facts missing. It seems like budget ran out and he tried to tie the story together the best he could. I saw the potential for a great movie, and I think his next shot at it will be better. Dean O’Flaherty has talent and I think his unique style will develop. The concept was great, but the continuity lacked.

    *** CINEMA AUTOPSY EDIT – Spoilers warning ***

    By the way………… Danny’s mother, who died of who knows what, was a prostitute. Danny’s father was looking sadly at a case file mid way through the film. The file had A young woman’s picture in it that he seemed be reminiscing about. The scene then breaks directly to the scene where He has those same teary eyes, somber face, and hookers. He sat in his car and starred at them for quite some time. It supported you thinking he was deviant, and that his wife should have concerns. I thought that was a strange scene until it hit me that the director made an ill attempt to disclose the mother’s identity. It makes since why he would not want to share who she was to the kid or girlfriend. I get that he tried to put layers in his story, but it was just a little jumbled. It s like he put a lot of facts in a cup and through them out like scrabble. He also did not put depth to his facts or deceptions leaving you very puzzled.

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