Beautiful Creatures


             In the last several years in British cinema, the lads have been
     enjoying a renaissance. There have been the comic spins (
Lock, Stock
       and Two Smoking Barrels, Plunkett and Macleane
) and the heavier
     dramas (
Sexy Beast, Gangster No. 1). In most of these efforts, if
     female characters appear at all, they are peripheral. For some reason
     though, when a filmmaker decides to put women front and center in
     similar type of motion picture, that director gets raked over the coals
     by critics and audiences. The role of women in society has forever
     changed and continues to advance (in some sectors more slowly
     than ever).

             Lately, I've noticed a backlash against some movies that have
     strong female leads. It's one thing if the role is played by a popular
     actress and she wears trashy clothes and a push-up bra (yes, I mean
     Julia Roberts in
Erin Brockovich), it's another thing if she played by a
     less stellar (but sometimes more gifted actress), particularly if that
     character flaunts conventions (for example, Juliette Binoche in
Chocolat).
     Strong women were the mainstays of Hollywood films from the 1920s
     through to the early 1960s. With the breakup of the studio system and
     the rise of the auteur independent filmmakers, actresses have had
     to take a back seat to the leading man. Hollywood also seems to want
     its leading ladies to be barely out of puberty as well, as the conventional
     wisdom is that by age 35 most actresses are no longer marketable.
     (There are always exceptions.) Still, when some of our finest performers
     are reduced to playing supporting roles or making fools of themselves
     in "character" roles for which they are unsuited, there is something
     amiss. Even with the proliferation of female talent and executives,
     things haven't changed.

             What does all this have to do with
Beautiful Creatures?
     Well, the film has been attacked for its anti-male sentiments
     (despite being written by and directed by men). It features two fine
     actresses who are at the peak of their prowess - Susan Lynch
     and Rachel Weisz - and it turns the tables on the recent spate
     of laddish features. Here the women are front and center and
     propelling the plot. No mere window dressings, these are two flawed
     females who bond over the fact that each is involved in abusive
     relationships.

             The film opens with a voice-over argument between Glaswegian
     Dorothy (Lynch) and her lover Tony (Iain Glen) who possesses a
     hair-trigger temper. They are on a train home and their altercation
     spills over in public. Having locked herself in the water closet
     to avoid Tony's blows, Dorothy makes her way home and finds the
     place trashed and her white Alsatian named Pluto died pink. (Tony
     has attempted to make it look like he hurt the dog.) Fed up, Dorothy
     packs to leave but on her way to the bus she spies Petula (Weisz)
     on the receiving end of blows from her abusive boyfriend Brian
     (Tom Mannion). Not one to just stand and watch or to walk on by,
     Dorothy picks up a pipe and knocks Brian out cold. She and Petula
     drag him back to her apartment and the two women begin an
     unlikely friendship that leads to a ransom scheme (they plan
     to bilk Brian's wealthy older brother, played by Maurice Roeves,
     out of a million pounds) and a police investigation by a crooked
     detective inspector (Alex Norton). Naturally, all sorts of complications
     ensue, including Tony's unexpected return and the policeman's
     double dealing. To reveal anything further would spoil it for viewers.

             Actor-writer Simon Donald's screenplay is black comedy at its
     darkest and may not appeal to a wide audience as a result.
     
Beautiful Creatures lacks the snarky attitudinal tone of, say,
     
Shallow Grave (which Andrew Macdonald also produced), but,
     thanks mostly to the lead performances of Susan Lynch and Rachel
     Weisz, the film does have some spark. These two women who
     otherwise probably wouldn't have connected find common ground
     and develop an odd friendship. While some aspects of the plot are
     a little far-fetched, the actresses manage to remain intriguing.
     Lynch adopts a take-charge, no-nonsense approach that is only
     undermined when her bullying lover returns. Weisz has the outer
     trappings of a dimwitted bimbo -- platinum hair, a vacant, quizzical
     look -- but her Petula finds inner resources that surprise both her
     and the viewers.

             Granted,
Beautiful Creatures is flawed, but by turning the
     spotlight on two women behaving badly, the filmmakers have attempted
     to upend the genre and for that they deserve some attention. Perhaps
     next time, Lynch and Weisz will find an outlet more worthy of their
     enormous gifts.

             
                     
                     Rating:                C+
                     MPAA Rating:       R for strong violence and sexuality,
                                                      drug use and language
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.