Judge Chris Claro wondered why the Benigni was missing when he was watching this.
Welcome to LA.
If New York has gained a place in movie history as the ne plus ultra of achievement—if you can make it there, etc.—then LA is the opposite, according to filmmakers: if you can't make it anywhere, you decamp to the City of Angels.
Los Angeles as last stop has long been considered in print by the likes of Philip Marlowe and Raymond Carver and on the screen through the lenses of Alan Rudolph (Welcome to LA), Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), and even Michael Mann (Heat). It's easy to see what draws storytellers to the locale; from its ethnic diversity to its eclectic landscape to its proximity to the Hollywood star factory, the dimension and ethos of LA make it a character in itself. So it's natural that young filmmakers would continue to look to Los Angeles as a setting for society's fringe players—the lonely, alienated, grasping types who skate around society's fringes and populate indie films.
Facts of the Case
Fresh off the bus from somewhere, Maggie (Angela Sarafyan, The Good Guys) arrives in downtown la with a suitcase and a sneer. relieved forthwith of said suitcase, she finds herself part of a motley crew of la misfits, including stripper esther (bai ling, Southland Tales) and Salvadoran illegal David (Jesse Garcia, Quinceañera). As Maggie and David begin a tenuous romance, the background from which she's fleeing takes over in violent and mysterious ways.
Sure Thomas and Rudolph can pull it off, but can one Alejandro Chomski make an LA story that measures up to those guys? Maybe he can, but A Beautiful Life isn't it, unfortunately. This is a slack drama based, by screenwriters Wendy Hammond and Deborah Calla, on a play by Hammond. Full of stagey scenes in which characters argue or strippers sing or higher-priced performers show up, A Beautiful Life is less a movie than it is a filmmaker's clip reel.
The film is neither compelling nor particularly cohesive. Director Chomski substitutes faux flash for substance, attempting to slide by on slo-mo shots of LA at night, and flash cutting to and from a deep dark secret in Maggie's past, which he amateurishly reveals as a third-act surprise.
The acting throughout the film is rudderless and overwrought. Sarafyan and Garcia come off as star students in an acting class rather than two pros who can anchor a feature. Veteran Dana Delany (Exit to Eden) shows up in two scenes as Maggie's mother, but makes virtually no impression—other than causing viewers to ask "How the hell did they get Dana Delany to appear in this movie?" Debi Mazar also shows up in a blink-and-you'll-miss-her performance as a kindly librarian who helps Maggie get to the core of her issues.
Though Chomski tries hard, the film's low-budget origins betray its ambitions, leaving A Beautiful Life looking like dozens of other late-night cable time-fillers. Image's presentation of the film is similarly uninspired, with a standard transfer, acceptable audio, and no extras, save the film's trailer.
There will always be stories to tell about the hard-luck losers of LA; hell, it's been almost a hundred years since Nathanael West unleashed The Day of the Locust and authors and filmmakers are still mining the City of Angels for material. Though Chomski, Hammond, and Calla do their best to carry on the tradition of West and others of his ilk, A Beautiful Life stands out only because of how ordinary it turns out to be.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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