Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/2/03 w/ Additional Edits.
In January of 2002, filmmaker Ted Demme died of a heart attack at age 37. By then, he was already one of the promising filmmakers around with such acclaimed films like The Ref and 2001’s Blow. Demme was also responsible for creating the show Yo! MTV Raps in the late 80s that helped put hip-hop in the mainstream and with filmmaking uncle Jonathan, Ted was a practitioner for music and comedy since he directed comedy specials for Denis Leary and making a hip-hop film Who’s the Man? in 1993. In 1996, Ted Demme released one of his most acclaimed films to date with the nostalgic, buddy-comedy Beautiful Girls.
Beautiful Girls is about a young man in his mid-30s attending a high school reunion in a small town in Massachusetts. With his array of high school buddies, they talk about their relationships with women as well as the trouble around them. While the film recalls elements of the 1983 Lawrence Kasdan film The Big Chill, Beautiful Girls doesn't sway into the nostalgia of that film to encompass a more working class, modern tone to the film. Written by Scott Rosenberg and directed by Ted Demme, Beautiful Girls is a fun, heartwarming comedy with a lot of laughs and a lot of heart.
Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) is a NYC bar pianist who decides to go to a high school reunion in his small hometown. Willie ponders about his job as a pianist since he’s done little success and isn’t sure if he wants to get married to his girlfriend Tracy (Annabeth Gish). Once he arrives, he meets up with old pal Michael “Mo” Morris (Noah Emmerich), a family man with loving kids and caring wife Sarah (Anne Bobby). After some time with Mo, Willie returns home to see his widowed father Dick (Richard Bright) and dim-witted brother Bobby (David Arquette) who are still troubled by the death of Willie's mother. Willie encounters his neighbor, a 13-year old girl named Marty (Natalie Portman) where they struck up a friendship as she wonders about the Conway’s sad household.
Willie also meets up with the rest of his buddies led by snowplow chief Tommy (Matt Dillon), quiet guy Kev (Max Perlich), and loudmouth Paul (Michael Rapaport). Tommy is a former jock who has a loving girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) while is cheating on her with a married woman named Darian Smalls (Lauren Holly). Paul meanwhile, is having relationship troubles as well as his girlfriend Jan (Martha Plimpton) since he’s suspecting her of sleeping with the meat cutter at her job at a local restaurant. Willie feels happy with his pals since they’re having relationship troubles except for Mo as they often hang out at a bar owned by their pal Stinky (Pruitt Taylor Vince). Paul tries to propose marriage to Jan but it becomes a failure as he suspects her of her affair with meat cutter as their relationship ends. Tommy meanwhile, is having some trouble with his relationships with Sharon and Darian.
Willie befriends Marty as he asks what the kids do nowadays which isn’t much as she is going out with some boy named Andrew. Willie feels a bit jealous since he finds himself enchanted by Marty. After meeting with Paul in Tommy’s apartment, Willie and Tommy meet up with Sharon’s friend Gina (Rosie O’Donnell) as she talks about what men want from women. During a birthday party for Tommy, Darian makes her presence felt as Sharon learns what is going on and she finds herself being unhappy and breaks up with Tommy. Then one night at Stinky’s, his cousin Andrea (Uma Thurman) visits as the men serenade her with the Neil Diamond classic “Sweet Caroline”. Paul finds himself trying to make moves on Andrea, just to piss off Jan.
Paul nabs a date with Andrea while Willie has an encounter with Marty at a skating rink where Marty tells him that he’s her new boyfriend. Willie likes the idea but is afraid things will change and references Winnie the Pooh about changing as Marty is given time to think about whatever relationship they might have. Tommy meanwhile, is feeling guilt from his breakup with Sharon as he learned what a cold bitch Darian really is as he later gets in trouble with her husband Steve (Sam Robards). Paul's date with Andrea becomes a disaster leading Paul to have a rant about women to Willie the next day. After a conversation with Andrea, Willie ponders his own relationship issues as Tracy finally arrives where he realize what he wants while wanting to help out his friends with their own issues.
What makes Beautiful Girls such an appealing film is its chemistry with the cast. Ted Demme and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg crafted a story that couples could relate to as well as smart-alecks about men and women. Even as it includes a great monologue about how men are attracted to plastic models by Rosie O'Donnell that is one of the film's highlights. Even as it features commentary on men about their own immaturity. Demme even gives the film a working class tone in its small town as something a bit real with wonderful cinematography from Adam Kimmel and Tony Janelli. The music in the film is also worth noting since it’s soundtrack is very diverse with old-school classics from Neil Diamond, the Rolling Stones, Kiss, Jethro Tull, and Billy Paul to more modern stuff from Afghan Whigs, Pete Drodge, Split Enz, Ween, Morphine, and Chris Issak.
The performances in the film are all top-notch led by the enigmatic Timothy Hutton who leads the film with his masterful portrayal as a man in his mid-30s struggling with his identity with women. Matt Dillon is excellent as the hard-nosed jock Tommy while Noah Emmerich plays the film’s sweet conscious that is well utilized. The smaller male roles of David Arquette, Richard Bright, Max Perlich, Sam Robards, and Pruitt Taylor Vince are also well used while Michael Rapaport steals the show with his comedic rants and one-liners. Bringing the film some balance is the female performances. Mira Sorvino brings a lovely performance as the neglected Sharon while Uma Thurman brings a lovely performance as Stinky’s cousin who plays the men’s attraction but brings brains to the role. Rosie O’Donnell is easily the most hilarious performance of the film since she rants a lot about men and stuff while Lauren Holly is excellent as the cold bitch who really doesn’t know how mean she is to men. The smaller roles of Annabeth Gish, Martha Plimpton, and Anne Bobby standout as well while Natalie Portman brings the film’s best performance as the precocious, innocent Marty, who was named after a grandfather she never knew.
Beautiful Girls is an excellent, heartwarming comedy from the late Ted Demme that shines from its cast and script. Though the film at times has predictable moments, it overcomes that through its humor and chemistry from the cast. Fans of comedy will enjoy the rants of Rapaport and O’Donnell while more dramatic fans will love the performances of Hutton and Portman. The film has something for everyone. Sadly, Ted Demme won’t be making any more films like this but at least he captured something magical with Beautiful Girls.
(C) thevoid99 2010