Friday, March 10, 2017

This Beautiful Fantastic: What Makes Your Garden Grow?

Plants are a lot like animals. Their only purpose is to be eaten. They’re just not as tasty. Yet, for some reason, grouchy old Alfie Stephenson enjoys looking at them in his backyard garden. He is so fauna-crazed, he rats out his oddball next door neighbor to their landlord for the poor state of her untended back plot. She has a black-death thumb, but the crusty old curmudgeon will eventually help her tame her unruly garden in Simon Aboud’s This Beautiful Fantastic (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Growing up in an orphanage most likely caused Bella Brown’s poor social skills. The OCD and germaphobia developed on their own. In Brown’s case, they are so pronounced, the make everyday living a challenge. Of course, the last thing she wants to do is spend time out in dirty, smelly nature. Unfortunately, she will have to knuckle-down or be evicted. At least, she has some help. Stephenson’s former cook Vernon will feed her well and he will use his dishes to extort some gardening advice from the old grouch.

Of course, Stephpenson will eventually change his opinion of the awkward Ms. Brown. She in turn will take a liking to a similarly eccentric patron at the library, where her employment hangs by a thread. Billy the inventor also provides a seed of inspiration for the children’s book she always meant to write.

In some outlets, TBF has been billed as a fantasy, because Brown spins a yarn about a steampunky Da Vinci-esque mechanical bird, but that rather overstates matters. Nevertheless, it is quite remarkable how well Aboud (Paul McCartney’s son-in-law) minimizes the quirkiness in favor of dry British wit. Naturally, the crafty Tom Wilkinson is his key ally in this respect. As Stephenson, he perfectly lands each and every acerbic line and maintains his dignity during the scenes of melodramatic rapprochement.

Frankly, as Ms. Brown, Jessica Brown Findlay (the Downton Abbey sister who dies in childbirth) is much more closely akin to Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club than Audrey Tautou in Amélie. On the other hand, Andrew Scott piles on plenty of ah shucks charm as Vernon, channeling the likable Irish everyman of films like The Bachelor Weekend rather than his villainous Jim Moriarty persona.

Yes, it is predictable, but TBF manages to be plucky without ant saccharine sweetness. Again, Wilkinson’s contributions towards this end cannot be overstated. His arch voiceovers are some of the best you will hear in a film all year. Recommended for anyone who wants some polite British comedy with their tea and biscuits, This Beautiful Fantastic opens today (3/10) in New York, at the Village East.