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The Girl Was A Zygote When You Were In the 7th Grade

December 30th, 2010 · 3 Comments

This month’s theme was hatched after yet another person with better taste than me recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for nine more films with similar themes, “Cat Food”, “Rain” and “Corset” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.

Beautiful Girls (1996)
Directed by Ted Demme
Written by Scott Rosenberg
Produced by Cary Woods
112 minutes

Like a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for Generation X, Beautiful Girls has carved its niche as holiday comfort food that tastes great every year. Following his first produced screenplay Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, Scott Rosenberg signed a deal with Touchstone Pictures. He submitted a treatment for his first assignment Con Air and waiting for word in Boston while snowplows dug through a blizzard, it occurred to Rosenberg that the real action was in his hometown, where friends were dealing with commitment as they hit their third decade. Rosenberg emerged from his room five days later with a script. Brian Grazer, Ridley Scott and Mace Neufeld were interested, but producer Cary Woods and Miramax Films won the bidding. Rosenberg worked on a dozen drafts with James L. Brooks before the director decided he didn’t relate much with blue collar 30-year-olds and dropped out.

Ted Demme wasn’t much older than the characters in the script and was ultimately hired to direct. His aesthetic influence was The Deer Hunter and preferring “Knight’s Ridge” to look as worn down and as frozen in time as possible, opted to shoot the film in Minnesota. With 17 characters packed into a 1 hour 50 minute movie, there are segments of Beautiful Girls that work much better than others: Michael Rapaport as a local yokel obsessed with fashion models, a Neil Diamond sing-along and (no joke) Rosie O’Donnell chart high, while the “romance” between Natalie Portman and Timothy Hutton remains the #1 reason to see the movie, an episodic comedy drama that never spells out its intentions or dumbs itself down. The script is a series of insights in search of a story, but after a few years, you not only feel you know these characters, but look forward to spending time with them.

Lounge playing piano man Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) scrapes together enough cash for bus fare from New York City back home to the town of “Knight’s Ridge” for his 10-year high school reunion. Willie discovers that his friends never really left. Tommy (Matt Dillon) runs a plowing company and clings to his glory days by sleeping with ex-cheerleader Darian (Lauren Holly). Tommy’s loyal girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) copes with his behavior by focusing on her weight, which her brassy pal Gina (Rosie O’Donnell) sees as a perpetuation of male fantasy. Paul (Michael Rapaport) pushes away his girlfriend Jan (Martha Plimpton) by refusing to accept she isn’t cheating on him with the meat cutter. He buys her  a brown engagement ring and when she refuses to marry him, Paul buries Jan’s driveway in snow.

The quiet Kev (Max Perlich) also shovels snow for a living but aspires to do little more than work all day and drink all night. Husband and father Mo (Noah Emmerich) seems to be the only genuine grownup among the group. The weekend takes a detour with the entrance of Andrea (Uma Thurman), a beautiful and cool import from Chicago visiting Knight’s Ridge to see her cousin “Stinky” (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who runs the tavern the boys drink at. Each of the guys take turns trying to impress her, to little avail. Willie’s girlfriend and possible fiancée (Annabeth Gish) soon joins him, but the 29-year-old musician confides his commitment fears to a kindred spirit, the soulful 13-year-old who lives next door, Marty (Natalie Portman). She suggests Willie wait to get married until he meets someone who excites him. By Willie’s math, when Marty turns 23, he’ll only be 39.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 4,746 users: 79% for Beautiful Girls

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 64 for Beautiful Girls

What do you say?

Tags: Brother/brother relationship · Coming of age · Cult favorite · Drunk scene · Famous line · Midlife crisis · Music · Road trip · Small town · Unconventional romance

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J.D. // Dec 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Love this film. It has a lived-in look like these characters have existed long before the film started and will continue long after it ends. You are right to point out the relationship between Hutton and Portman’s characters – it is definitely the best thing about the film and handled so well. Portman does the wise-beyond-her-years thing but without being annoying. And such a killer cast that filled with Miramax regulars and is a fascinating snapshot of the studio at the height of its powers.

    I love pulling this film out at least once a year and revisiting these characters.

  • 2 Kid In The Front Row // Jan 1, 2011 at 6:20 am

    I absolutely and completely love this movie.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Jan 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    J.D.: I couldn’t agree with you more, on all points. Whether it was in the script or locked down in the editing, I admire how Beautiful Girls veers away from being a reunion movie and supplies these little vignettes, mostly centered around Timothy Hutton’s character. Seeing it again in 2010, I enjoyed rediscovering how good Martha Plimpton is. Thanks for commenting!

    Kid: There’s a lot of sentiment like yours going around for this movie. I have a friend who puts Beautiful Girls on her All Time Top 10 List. Thanks for chiming in!

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