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This Beautiful Fantastic, much like 2001’s Amélie, is gossamer. It, too, features a lonely but imaginative young woman: Her name is Bella Brown, and the opening narration tells us that she was raised by ducks and grew to be “the oddest of oddballs, terrified by the unpredictability of nature and flora in particular.” There are rainbows and flowers and hand-drawn birds that fly off pieces of paper. Even specks of dust falling in a library seem to glisten.
But writer-director Simon Aboud anchors his film’s flights of fancy with an element of peevishness. The voiceover continues: “I’m not a religious man, but I believe someone sent her here to test us.”
The narrator is Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), and he’s the flora-loving neighbor of Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay), whose OCD keeps her cottage neat while her phobia prevents her from tending her yard. She’s an aspiring children’s book author and a loner whose closet is full of funereal blacks and grays. Bella meets Alfie literally by accident after she falls in a storm and awakens in his home, with his doctor looking after her. Alfie is immediately grouchy toward the patient, whom he deems a “horticultural terrorist” who’s created an “unmitigated eco-apocalypse” next to his home. When the doc tells her what happened, Alfie interrupts with, “The garden fought back, that’s what.”
At the beginning of the film—and throughout much of it—Bella, while preferring the insularity of her little world, seems to bear the weight of the real world as she rushes out to her job at the library each morning. “Today, I’m going to make a difference,” she says to a mirror. Then she sighs. And Alfie tells people he’s dying, repeatedly using a poetic memorized script. It’s not true and neither is the old man crotchety at heart. Like Bella’s garden, he just needs a bit of attention.
Bella soon gets notice that she must revive her garden or face eviction. Gee, do you think the two will become friends?
Needless to say, a story about planting some flowers isn’t much of a story at all. Bella has two love interests—though one man’s intentions aren’t as clear as the other’s—and even these subplots aren’t deeply developed. Further, the alchemy between Bella and Alfie comes a little too easily to be believed, and the nature-based metaphors of light, love, and blooming are rather heavy-handed.
Yet Aboud’s script is full of humor, and the details that are here, including Alfie’s backstory, shape a lovely tale of finding beauty regardless of how lonely or invisible one feels. The featherweight film is aided in large part by Wilkinson’s and Findlay’s charming performances, both of which offer pessimism and optimism in realistic measures. The broad strokes of This Beautiful Fantastic are inarguably the stuff of fairy tales. But its heart is purely human.
This Beautiful Fantastic opens Friday at West End Cinema.