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.
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.