Serving up a generous dose of whimsical escapism, This Beautiful Fantastic offers a much needed burst of flowers and sunlight for the tired cinema goer. The story focuses on Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay who played Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey) a quirky, reclusive librarian with dreams of becoming a children’s author. The nature-wary “oddest of oddballs” is drawn into a backyard project with an unlikely group of misfits after clashing with a tenacious neighbour.
The film ambles along languidly like a long sunny afternoon in the backyard, and like such afternoons it does make you want to nap a little in the middle when the pace slows even further. However, the intelligently crafted dialogue provides delightful moments of comedy throughout and mostly resists taking itself too seriously or plunging into nostalgia. The cinematography is luscious and experimental and has moments of charming fairy tale surrealism reminiscent of French director Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, but slips a little too often into cheesy territory to achieve the artistic status which seems to be reaching for.
Sets and characters feel as if they belong in several eras all at once and there are a few particularly clunky moments, such as the main characters getting caught in a downpour and remaining completely dry, when you can’t tell if it’s part of the semi surrealist nature of the film or a production oversight, but these quirks are not enough to stop you from being absorbed back into the journey of the eccentric main characters. Despite its flaws, This Beautiful Fantastic is a welcome change from the fast pace of modern life. So take a deep breath and settle in for a sweetly woven story of friendship and growth with a satisfying side of romance.