Sony // 1996 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 11th, 2003
A tale about crushes, first loves, and other things that make being a homosexual London teenager hard.
In a London high-rise housing project two boys are about to discover their true sexuality among their friends, their neighbors, and their families. Young Jamie (Glenn Berry) is a shy introvert who lives with his brash barmaid mother Sandra (Linda Henry), a woman who hasn't had much luck in life or boyfriends (her current beau is a young leftover hippie named Tony). Their neighbors include the athletic Ste (Scott Neil) and his alcoholic father on one side, and in the other apartment is an African American mother and her sarcastic teenage daughter Leah (Tameka Empson) who is fervently devoted to the music of Mama Cass. Jamie has a slight crush on Ste, though has been hesitant to make any moves due to his confusion about these new feelings. When Sandra allows Ste to stay the night after one of his father's beatings, Jamie and Ste discover they have a mutual attraction for each other. Terrified that his abusive father and older brother will find out, Ste fights his feelings while Jamie pines for Ste's affections (and worries about what his mother's reaction would be). As both boys continue exploring their feelings for one another, they'll discover that young love and romance can truly be a Beautiful Thing.
I'm going to start off this review with a disclaimer: I didn't understand half of this movie. I'd say I was able to interpret only 65% of the dialogue, and that's being quite conservative. This is due in part to the thick accents every character sports. This wouldn't have been much of an issue had Columbia included English subtitles on the disc -- alas, the disc is void of any language tool to help us Americans decipher these Londoner's speech patterns. Otherwise, I enjoyed Beautiful Thing, a story about the love between two gay teenage boys (suddenly I feel as though the cops should be banging down my door any minute, Pete Townshend-style). Based on the play by Jonathan Harvey (and written for the screen by the author), Beautiful Thing is a simple little love story that shows how love can blossom any old time, and in any old place. Scott Neil and Glenn Barry as the hesitant lovers are both fine in their roles, though it's Linda Henry as Jamie's mother that gives the film's its emotional backbone. She's a tough talking, chain-smoking broad who has tried to raise her son in the best way she knows how. Though her taste in men is often in question, her love for son is not -- a scene where Jamie finally comes out to her is written with a heart wrenching punch that many viewers will empathize with. Otherwise, the film doesn't try to be a big Hollywood love story -- it's just a small tale about normal people dealing with (what feels like to them) extraordinary feelings. Many scenes, as when Jamie and Ste have their first kiss, are handled with a delicate hand by director Hettie MacDonald. Though there are some questionable scenes regarding the boys' behavior (do these guys really want to hang out at a gay bar filled with fortysomething drag queens?), the film is filled with enough warmth to make up for its flaws. Whether you agree with the age-old topic of homosexuality or not, there's no denying that Beautiful Thing tugs on the heartstrings, and in most cases will pull a tear from your socket.
Beautiful Thing is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with an anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 TV sets. Columbia has done a fine job of making sure this transfer appears clear and solid without any major defects marring the image. Though there are some slight imperfections in the image (edge enhancement and dirt is present during a few scenes), this picture sports solid colors and dark black levels. It's a decent looking transfer for a rather low budget film. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in English. There's nothing exciting about this sound mix -- there aren't any true directional effects in the mix. The only boost in this soundtrack comes in the form of the music by The Mamas and the Papas and good ol' Mama Cass. Most aspects of the mix are free of any excessive hiss or distortion. Frustratingly, no alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available on this disc.
Not surprisingly, Beautiful Thing is void of most any meaty extra features. All viewers get are theatrical trailers for the films All About My Mother, Broken Hearts Club, and Celluloid Closet.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Three Theatrical Trailers