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Beautiful Girls

Directed by Ted Demme. Starring Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Natalie Portman, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Max Perlich, Uma Thurman, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Rosie O'Donnell, Noah Emmerich, Martha Plimpton, Lauren Holly, Annabeth Gish, David Arquette. (1996, R, 113 min.)

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 9, 1996

Although its title suggests otherwise, Beautiful Girls is firmly attuned to the twentysomething male perspective, a point of view that is focused on the mystery of the opposite sex. An amiable movie dedicated to trying to fathom the heart and soul of the modern-day Peter Pan -- boys who don't want to grow up, men who don't think of themselves as boys -- it doesn't always take you where you'd like it to go, but that's all right. It's a pleasant enough diversion, offering pointed observations here and there about the paradox of the male ego, callous and swaggering one moment, fragile and sensitive the next. Set in a snowy, small town in Massachusetts, Beautiful Girls features a host of characters who align themselves according to their gender; it's a dynamic rooted in pre-adolescence, a girls-versus-boys thing that's almost pathetically “us” versus “them”. The gals sit around and commiserate about how men can't commit; the guys sit around and numerically rate women, as if Olympics judges. Some might accuse Beautiful Girls of playing to stereotypes about the gender gap, but it's too sincere an effort to dismiss it so easily. There are some fine moments in Scott Rosenberg's script, most notably the ones that play like a whisper -- for instance, Dillon's rambling realization, as he lies in his hospital bed, that he's nowhere near the man he thought he'd one day be. Demme's directorial style is laid-back, befitting the film's sleepy, nothing-ever-happens milieu. (Like Nobody's Fool, the film observes the quiet desperation of small towns seemingly buried under a perpetual blanket of snow.) As the film's focal character -- the outsider looking in -- Hutton gives a serviceable performance in the role of a hometown boy who's come home for the high school reunion and experiences an epiphany, of sorts. And although there are plenty of beautiful girls in this movie -- both physically, spiritually, and emotionally -- there are none more memorable than Portman (The Professional, Heat), as the 12-year-old girl next door on the verge of a wondrous womanhood. Shades of Nabokov, it's no wonder that Hutton's character gets a schoolboy crush on her. With beauty and talent to spare, Portman is something to behold: It's as if Elizabeth Taylor and Jodie Foster were somehow genetically melded at an early age. She's definitely a beautiful girl to watch for.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Beautiful Girls, Ted Demme, Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Natalie Portman, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, Max Perlich, Uma Thurman, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Rosie O'Donnell, Noah Emmerich, Martha Plimpton, Lauren Holly, Annabeth Gish, David Arquette

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