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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that This Beautiful Fantastic is a sentimental English romantic dramedy with the tone and feel of real-life fairy story, which makes it suitable for kids. Its comic, whimsical approach softens the fact that the lead character, a shy and unusual young woman (Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey), was abandoned as an infant and, as an adult, seems to be suffering from obsessive-compulsive urges (her compulsions and phobias are portrayed as charming quirks, rather than serious issues). She experiences some heartbreak but recovers. Her greatest challenge is to get out and live her life, and friends help her learn how -- she also learns to work hard and persevere in order to meet a challenging goal. A character dies (off screen), but he leaves an inspiring legacy. Strong language is infrequent but includes "bastard," "hell," and "bloody." There's some flirting and brief kissing, and adults drink wine. Arguments and a strong storm could distress sensitive kids, but they pass quickly.
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What's the story?
THIS BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC tells the story of Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay, Lady Sybil of Downton Abbey), a quiet, obsessive-compulsive librarian who lines up her peas and cuts her waffles into linear bites. It's suggested that her issues are related to the fact that she was left in a park as an infant and only survived because ducks sat on her to keep her warm until she was found. Now, as an adult on her own, Bella checks and re-checks the many locks on her door before heading to work each morning. She only embarks on these outings out of necessity, to pay the bills; she'd much rather stay secluded in her safe, neat rented apartment. She's not quite agoraphobic, but her distrust of nature has led to a severe neglect of her garden -- to the point that it triggers an eviction clause in her lease. Unless she can get over her fear of dirt and sun and make the garden beautiful in a month, she'll be kicked out. Her curmudgeonly neighbor, Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), who lives in the grand home next door, has a lovely garden -- despite his crankiness, he agrees to help her tame the overgrowth so she can avoid homelessness. She's also helped by Vernon (Andrew Scott), the cook Alfie fires and then wants back. And then there's her developing crush on Billy (Jeremy Irvine), the sweet but socially awkward inventor who frequents the library where she works.
Is it any good?
This twee English comedy feels like a fairy tale written by Lemony Snicket, with acid tinges around a sweet, if inconsequential, middle. While This Beautiful Fantastic has no flying governesses, it does neatly juggle reality and imagination in the manner of Mary Poppins or Edward Scissorhands. Although most of the action seems rooted in reality, the universe that director-writer Simon Aboud has created makes room for magic. So a drawing flies off a piece of paper, but we're somehow prepared for this. That said, not all of the surprises work. When belligerent, cynical Alfie reveals the roots of his heartbreak, we understand his anger -- but the script lets him leap back and forth between childish tantrums and sage kindness so often that it feels like a misstep.
At its heart, This Beautiful Fantastic is in love with beauty -- both natural and created -- as it celebrates flowers and gardens, the artistic geniuses whom Billy studies at the library, and also the book Bella is trying to write. Yet the visual style doesn't quite let the magic of cinema reflect or enhance that love. That said, Wilkinson is terrific as Alfie, and Findlay, Irvine, and Scott are all charming and well suited to their roles. The characters' personality extremes are rather exaggerated (Bella's boss, a librarian who cautions visitors into silence but also yells into a library loudspeaker when it suits her, is a stickler for protocol to a cartoonish degree), but they're still fun.
Talk to your kids about ...
Bella is uncomfortable when objects around her aren't orderly and neat. Some people with this tendency are thought to be obsessive-compulsive. How do you think such a condition might affect a person's life? Do you think it's portrayed realistically here?
What is the movie's message about friendship? Do you have any friends that you had a poor first impression of at first? What changed?
The movie mixes reality and fantasy. Bella seems at once real but also as if she might be a magical character. How do you think the movie wants you to view her?
- In theaters: March 10, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: June 20, 2017
- Cast: Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Wilkinson, Jeremy Irvine, Andrew Scott
- Director: Simon Aboud
- Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic material and language
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