Bella’s beginning were unconventional. Found among ducks as a baby, she was raised in an orphanage where she nursed a fear of the outdoors and soothed her loneliness with books. Now an adult, Bella lives very much alone with only those books, a typewriter, and radio for company. Her interactions with the outside world occur at the library where she works and over a garden wall with her curmudgeonly neighbor. It isn’t until she has an accident in her neglected garden that her lonely little world begins expanding. Gradually, she is forced to let in her cleaner/cook, the aforementioned grumpy neighbor, and a handsome inventor.
This Beautiful Fantastic is a whimsical fairy tale along the lines of Penelope, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, and–perhaps the most well-known of all quirky, girl films–Amelie. Jessica Brown Findlay excellently portrays Bella, a character who has spent years building walls to protect herself from the grief of losing her parents too young. It’s a quiet role–one which calls for Findlay’s expressive eyes and gentle, physically comedy–and while Bella is described as the oddest of oddballs by our narrator, the film and Findlay never allow her quirkiness descend to ridiculous levels (that’s left for her manic pixie dream boy love interest). Bella spends her time dressing like Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, learning foreign languages on the radio, and obsessively ordering her house. She’s essentially a relatable sort of weird and you can’t help but root for her to begin writing her book and make friends the individuals thrown in her path.
These prospective friends come in the form of cleaner Vernon (Andrew Scott), neighbor Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), and inventor Billy (Jeremy Irvine). Each role is played to varying success. Andrew Scott is impeccable as always as the first person to knock bricks from Bella’s wall. His sweet charm and adorable bumbling-ness make you understand why Bella would immediately make room for him and his calming hugs in her life. It’s a shame really that they cast someone so incredibly likiable in this role because it’s difficult to understand why she would pass up her kind cook/cleaner in exchange for a mad, inventor boy. (Sigh.) Before we get to that mad inventor, it needs to be said that Tom Wilkinson manages wonderfully as Bella’s antagonist/mentor. His character sets Bella on her journey, but he’s more than just the catalyst for the film’s gardening-heavy plot. He’s also given room to grow as he overcomes loneliness and grief of his own. It is the bond and sympathy between Alfie and Bella that centers the story–which is one of the many reasons why her love story with Billy feels so extraneous.
Billy–the main weakness in the film–is in all essentials a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. He dresses like he’s a member of a Steampunk club, builds robots that are powered by moonlight, and always has tea and a spare cup at the ready. His character appears to be part of a separate (far quirkier) film altogether, and his and Bella’s love story sparked my only annoyance with the film. Certainly, his “Luna” gives Bella the protagonist for her children’s book, but it’s her experiences with Alfie that drive the fable she’s writing and illustrating. Billy’s cartoonishness makes for an odd fit tonally in this film, and seeing as he’s the only character without proper development, it would have been better if his role had been written around and out of This Beautiful Fantastic.
Thankfully, Billy’s presence doesn’t break this movie. The writer/director Simon Aboud created a whimsical tale about grief, creativity, and caring for something outside yourself in This Beautiful Fantastic, and while it might not inspired the viewer to pick up a spade and take to the garden, it certainly reminds one of the importance of creativity and moving forward.
If You Like This Beautiful Fantastic, Check Out. . .
- Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
- The Brother’s Bloom