February 9, 1996 in Seven

‘Girls’ Is Chatty, Yet Revealing

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

A sharp script, a swell cast and a heckuva lot of down vests are the key elements in the Minnesota-shot comedy, “Beautiful Girls.”

It’s a chatty movie, a la “Diner” or “The Big Chill,” about friends reuniting in a small Massachusetts town for their 10-year high-school reunion. Timothy Hutton is an amiable drifter, Matt Dillon is the stud who became a dud, Rosie O’Donnell is the beauty-parlor philosopher, Lauren Holly is the vacant beauty queen, and Michael Rapaport is the crudely lovable boor. In addition, Uma Thurman waltzes in as the looker who shakes up things.

There are a lot of movies out there with fast, funny conversation, but the chatter in “Beautiful Girls” doesn’t just fill time - it reveals things about the characters. Each one has a specific way of speaking (“You wanna know what really creases me?” asks an irritated Rapaport) which helps us see how the differences between them lead to conflicts and romantic entanglements.

Director Ted Demme, who made the riotous “The Ref,” has done a wonderful job with the actors. O’Donnell has the same Rhoda Morgenstern/Janeane Garofalo/ Rosie O’Donnell role she always plays - the wisecracking pal - but she brings an edge to it, especially in a witty-but-deadly riff about the collagened, siliconed, nipped, tucked beauty myth brought to us by Penthouse magazine’s sweaty staff.

Hutton, whose recent roles seemed to be heading him in the lackluster direction of infomercials and “Murder, She Wrote” guest appearances, gets back on track with his sardonic, low-key work, and Tom Gibis has a fine bit as a high-school nebbish who finally tells Holly what he thinks of her. But the movie is stolen by the stunning 14-year-old Natalie Portman, who was the confident moppet/terrorist in “The Professional.” Portman plays an oddly wise, mysteriously sad girl who becomes Hutton’s romantic adviser. I know that sounds awful, but trust me (and, more importantly, trust Demme) - it works.

“Beautiful Girls” also has a strong sense of place. Stillwater, Minn., under a blanket of snow, looks sleepy and beautiful, and it gives us a picture of a world in which people can suddenly wake up and notice that the comfortable patterns of small-town life have prevented them from realizing their dreams. I’d bet anything that when you watch “Beautiful Girls,” you will see at least one character who reminds you of someone you knew in high school.

As long as the movie stays in this territory - young folks asking the questions that will determine their futures - it’s on sure ground. But “Beautiful Girls” also wants to give its characters a way to find the answers, and that’s too tall an order. It runs into ending problems, wrapping things up with a really big fight in which the characters learn the literal meaning of “getting some sense knocked into you.” It’s a misstep that knocks the sense out of the movie, instead, but the rumble finale doesn’t negate all the moments that make the rest of “Beautiful Girls” such a witty, tender joy.

MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “BEAUTIFUL GIRLS” Location: North Division cinemas Credits: Directed by Ted Demme; starring Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Rosie O’Donnell, Natalie Portman and Michael Rapaport Running time: 1:53 Rating: R

2. OTHER VIEWS Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Beautiful Girls,” a takeoff of “Diner,” is a comedy of heartbreaks from director Ted Demme. It scores with a wealth of memorable character portrayals. But even such fine players as Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rapaport and Rosie O’Donnell are no match for the soap-operatic excesses of Scott Rosenberg’s screenplay. Joe Baltake/Scripps-McClatchy Western Service: “Beautiful Girls” is a grittier version of “Friends,” populated by characters who are decidely imperfect … Things are harsher here - more realistic - than anything allowed to surface on the dreamworld of “Friends,” and Demme’s film is about the unrealistic expectations that a lot of us carry away from such televised fantasies.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “BEAUTIFUL GIRLS” Location: North Division cinemas Credits: Directed by Ted Demme; starring Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Rosie O’Donnell, Natalie Portman and Michael Rapaport Running time: 1:53 Rating: R

2. OTHER VIEWS Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Beautiful Girls,” a takeoff of “Diner,” is a comedy of heartbreaks from director Ted Demme. It scores with a wealth of memorable character portrayals. But even such fine players as Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rapaport and Rosie O’Donnell are no match for the soap-operatic excesses of Scott Rosenberg’s screenplay. Joe Baltake/Scripps-McClatchy Western Service: “Beautiful Girls” is a grittier version of “Friends,” populated by characters who are decidely imperfect … Things are harsher here - more realistic - than anything allowed to surface on the dreamworld of “Friends,” and Demme’s film is about the unrealistic expectations that a lot of us carry away from such televised fantasies.


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