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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com

Up All Night with BEAUTIFUL GIRLS

I have trouble falling asleep.  I’m usually up until four or five in the morning.  I write, listen to music, read books, but mostly I lay in bed and watch movies in cable.  Despite an extensive DVD collection, it’s always more fun to scroll through the channel guide and see what happens to be on rather than getting up out of bed to sift through the DVDs.  The great thing about cable TV is that you find out which movies are the most re-watchable.  That doesn’t always make them the “best” (for instance, Schindler’s List is a masterpiece but I don’t want to watch it again) but they provide a certain kind of pleasure.

The best “cable” movies are ones that involve lots of characters, interesting interplay between those characters and witty dialogue.  For instance, a film like Rounders is in the pantheon of great re-watchable movies.  Dazed and Confused is another one.  These are films that are addictive, that if you happen to catch a part of one on cable, you’ll wind up sticking around for a few scenes – but most likely, you’ll watch the whole thing.

So last night, I couldn’t sleep as usual.  At around 3AM, I contemplated trying to force myself to sleep a bit, but then I saw that Beautiful Girls, the 1996 Ted Demme flick, was just starting.  I knew at that moment that I wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep until 5am at the earliest.

Beautiful Girls is a rich film that is like a modern-day Diner (in the Hall of Fame of Rewatchable Movies), about a young man who comes home to a snowy town in Massachusetts for his ten-year high school reunion and winds up bonding with his old friends.  Timothy Hutton plays the returning lad, a piano player who earns money playing boozy gigs in Manhattan, and his friends are mostly in a state of arrested development.  There’s Matt Dillon as the high school stud who is now stuck plowing snow and doing construction in the summer and sleeping with his married ex (much to his current girlfriend’s chagrin) and living with co-worker Michael Rappaport who has an obsession with supermodels and is trying desperately to win back his girlfriend who has taken up with “Victor the meat cutter.”  There’s Noah Emmerich as the one grown-up who is content with his life, Pruitt Tayor Vince as the owner of the local bar, and Max Perlich as the quiet guy.

Then there are the women: Lauren Holly, Uma Thurman, Rosie O’Donnell (in a role that was tailor-made for her and reminds us of how funny/filthy she can be), Martha Plimpton, Annabeth Gish, and young Natalie Portman.

There is no doubt that Portman’s presence in the film and the interplay between her and Hutton is the film’s highlight.  The film moves briskly and we are drawn into the problems and emotions of all the characters, but it is the relationship between Hutton’s 28 year-old piano player and Portman’s 13 year-old, precocious next-door neighbor that really makes the film come alive and sing.

Portman is Marty – not short for Martha! – and she and Hutton have a playful friendship that slowly begins to emerge as something else.  This being a mostly light-hearted film (with lots of poignancy, to be sure), there is no question of them having some kind of illicit affair.  But instead, different questions enter our minds – and indeed, the minds of the characters.  These two seem so well-suite for one another that we begin to root for some possible way that they can be together.  It’s illogical and impossible and Hutton expresses it best when he tells her that he’s “fully formed” and she has yet to go through all the changes that she will inevitably endure as she grows up.  That, despite Marty’s offer to wait five years until she’s legal, he has to grow up now and get on with his life.  So Hutton’s character, through his relationship with Marty, finally realizes that he can’t come up with another reason to stall moving forward with his life and his beautiful girlfriend.  It sounds more cliche that it actually is.

I would love if the film was a massive success and we could see what would happen if the two of them met now.  Would they still feel the same way?  It could be like a bizarre version of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg and director Ted Demme (RIP) really got to the heart of something tender and they evoke emotion and humor out of the most interesting situations.  The dialogue, while certainly contrived, feels real in the mouths of these characters and these actors.  There is a bond between them that feels accurate.

So, thanks to Beautiful Girls, I was up pretty late.  I kept flipping channels for a little bit and just when I was about to pass out, I saw that The People Vs Larry Flynt was just starting.

“Hmm,” I thought, “haven’t seen that one in a while…”

4 Responses to “Up All Night with BEAUTIFUL GIRLS”

  1. Keil Shults says:

    Yep, a wonderful, criminally overlooked/underrated film. Portman’s performance in this allowed me to forgive her for all the time she wasted in the Star Wars franchise. And while I don’t love Rounders as much as you, you’re dead right about the eternal power and endless watchability of Dazed and Confused.

  2. Noah Forrest says:

    Keil, for me it was the one-two punch of this and THE PROFESSIONAL that kept me patient with Portman. She’s got “it” and she’s had “it” since she was a kid. Remarkable.

  3. Keil Shults says:

    Yep, I first saw her in The Professional (not surprisingly), when I was 16. I wouldn’t say I had a crush on her, but she just exuded this stunning maturity and charisma (not to mention the purely physical beauty) that made it instantly clear she was going to be in this business for a very long time.

  4. Mike Wagner says:

    I have watched this film several times, and am still charmed and moved by the endearing complexity of some these relationships, and I’m now twice the age of some of these characters.
    What an insight into the potential if Natalie Portman as a young actor! It’s pretty uncomfortable finding yourself so attracted to a “13 year old”! Yo. The writing has an Off Broadway quality. I give it an easy 7. Have recommended it to friends – over and over.

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