Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful Girls (1996) [R] ****

It’s the dead of winter, and NYC- based jazz pianist Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) arrives home in Knights Ridge, Massachusetts for his tenth high school reunion. The reunion is really just an excuse to see his old friends – none of whom left town after graduation – and to get away from his current life. He’s barely scraping by playing piano, and he’s not sure if he’s ready to take a job as an office equipment salesman, or to marry his girlfriend Tracy (Annabeth Gish), who’s an attractive, successful lawyer.

Most of Willie’s high school friends have blue-collar jobs, and their best days were long ago. Only Michael (Noah Emmerich) is happily married with a wife Sarah (Anne Bobby) and daughter. Paul (Michael Rapaport) rents a room in Willie’s dad’s home; his room is decorated with semi-nude supermodels and he has a very sexist attitude toward women. He wants his waitress ex-girlfriend Jan (Martha Plimpton) back only because he knows that she’s moved on. Tommy (Matt Dillon) drives a snowplow truck. His steady, patient girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) knows he’s sleeping with his now-married, former high school sweetheart Darian (Lauren Holly), while Gina (Rosie O'Donnell) and Sarah try to convince Sharon it’s time to dump Tommy. And to complicate matters, Andera (Uma Thurman), the lovely niece of a local tavern owner arrives from Chicago, and, at the same time, Willie finds himself growing fascinated by his next-door neighbor, 13-year-old Marty (Natalie Portman), who is observant and wise far beyond her years.

This character-driven romantic comedy-drama was written by Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Gone in Sixty Seconds) and directed by the late Ted Demme (Blow). While costumes, sets and production values are mediocre, the cast is incredible and some of the dialogue is quite memorable. In one of the film’s highlights, Gina (O'Donnell), who fancies herself a feminist counselor, delivers a diatribe against men’s magazines, and the way they present unrealistic images of women. In another scene, as Marty (Portman) compares herself with Tracy (Gish), she poignantly observes to Willie: Two words not in her vocabulary... lunch money.

If Beautiful Girls feels dated, it is probably because so many of the cast members have gone on to illustrious film careers and they now appear so much older. On the other hand, if you’d like to watch the luminous Natalie Portman in an early film role, and you don’t care for the violence of Léon: The Professional (1994) or Heat (1995), Beautiful Girls is the film to see.

Labels: comedy, drama, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 64/100
Tomatometer (critics=78, viewers=81)

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