English eccentrics look for love in ‘This Beautiful Fantastic’


Like piccalilli and black pudding, two quintessentially British treats that are dropped, in passing, into the screenplay for “This Beautiful Fantastic,” this quirky English cinematic fable is probably something of an acquired taste. Depending on how you take your twee — sparingly or, as is the case in this preciously concocted tale of English misfits, slathered like marmalade over a crumpet — it will either delight or quickly cloy.

“Fantastic” tells the story of Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay of “Downton Abbey”), an aspiring children’s book author and reluctant librarian who lives next door to a curmudgeonly retired widower named Alfie Stephenson (Tom Wilkinson). Their seemingly opposite natures — he’s a fussbudget, especially about his garden, while she has let her own yard go to ruin — are the main source of the film’s shambling forward momentum.

Oddly, the inside of Bella’s house is a spotless monument to O.C.D. She keeps seven toothbrushes in rotation — one for each day of the week — and organizes her cupboard like a “food prison,” as one character observes. The fact that her back yard is a mess is explained away as the result of a childhood phobia of plants, the result of her having been abandoned in a park as an infant.

There are also a couple of lackadaisically introduced subplots. One of those side stories involves Bella’s infatuation with a goofy library patron named Billy who spends his days constructing robotic animals. Jeremy Irvine plays this role with glasses and a stammer, trying just as hard as Findlay to hide the fact that he is a dreamboat.

A second subplot involves Bella’s friendship with Alfie’s cook, Vernon (Andrew Scott). Yet another widower, Vernon comes accessorized with a charming Irish accent and adorably red-haired twin daughters. Shot without much flair by writer-director Simon Aboud, the film at least boasts several appetizing shots of Vernon’s cooking.

There is a further backdrop to Bella’s relationships with these three men, each of whom seems to be falling in platonic love with her. (And who wouldn’t? She’s cute as a button. But even Billy’s attraction feels oddly sexless, like the crush of a teenage boy on his nerdy but hot teacher.) That concerns an ultimatum by Bella’s landlord (Paul Hunter), who has given her one month to pull some weeds or he’ll evict her.

If these sound like the lowest of low stakes, they are. Although predictable, “This Beautiful Fantastic” nevertheless manages to work in a bit of melodrama involving Alfie’s health. In the end, however, it is as sugary and nutrition-free as English trifle.

MOVIE REVIEW

“This Beautiful Fantastic”

Grade: C+

Starring Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott and Jessica Brown Findlay. Directed by Simon Aboud.

Rated PG for some mature thematic material and strong language. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Bottom line: A preciously concocted tale of English misfits



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