Beautiful Thing

1996, R, 90 min. Directed by Hettie MacDonald. Starring Glen Berry, Linda Henry, Scott Neal, Tameka Empson, Ben Daniels, Jeillo Edwards.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 8, 1996

Beautiful, indeed. This sweet yet unsentimental coming-of-age film about two teenage boys in a working-class London suburb who fall in love will tickle your fancy, no matter where your sexual orientation may lie. Adapted from Jonathan Harvey's British play, Beautiful Thing is about how Jamie (Berry) and Ste (Neal), two 16-year-olds living next door to each other in a concrete-and-pillar public housing monstrosity, come to fall in love. For the cheeky Jamie, the process of coming out is difficult, but nonetheless logical -- after all, he hates sports and loves to watch old movies. For the melancholy Ste, however, it's much more complicated -- he is, after all, a popular guy in school and somewhat of a jock, not to mention that he has an alcoholic father who often physically abuses him in drunken rages. Although sporadically told in a fashion that's almost episodic, Beautiful Thing has the fullness and depth of the best of love stories. Not only are its two young protagonists struggling with their sexual identities, but they're also having to come to grips with the love thang, as well as the painful pangs of adolescence. Berry and Neal play the two amants with fresh sensitivity, without overdoing the teen angst; they're both terrific. Among the colorful characters who inhabit their world is a neighbor, Leah (Empson), a dropout their same age who aspires to reincarnate herself as the late Mama Cass -- the lengths that she'll go to do so are both pathetic and hilarious -- and Jamie's single mother Sandra (Henry), a strong-willed but loving woman who longs to work in her own pub and make something of herself. As Sandra, Henry gives an extremely empathetic performance. The scene in which she comforts her son after he's admitted to her that he's gay, is one that's hard to shake from your memory. As is the ending of this movie, where the two young men, ready to reveal to the world who they are, dance cheek-to-cheek to the Mamas and the Papas in broad daylight, in sweet defiance of the consequences. And who says they don't make romantic movies anymore?

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Beautiful Thing, Hettie MacDonald, Glen Berry, Linda Henry, Scott Neal, Tameka Empson, Ben Daniels, Jeillo Edwards

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