“Bella Brown. Well, what can I say? There was nothing normal about the girl.”
My little ears pricked up at the first line of This Beautiful Fantastic. I immediately wanted to know more about Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey, Winter’s Tale). The first shot of Findlay reeled me in too – she looks up directly into the camera as if she’s looking into the rain. When the narrator described her as the “oddest of oddballs”, and I began to see her perfectly insular and lonely world, I was entranced. She reminded me of me.
Bella is an orphan, who grows up to become a very quirky and reclusive woman. Her books are her friends, and her dream is to write and illustrate a children’s story book. Having not quite achieved that yet, she works at a library to pay the rent. Everything seems to be ticking along as normal (or, as normal as things would be for an oddball who has one labeled toothbrush for each day of the week) until Bella receives a visit from the property manager. He gives her an ultimatum: tidy up the jungle of a garden in her backyard, or face eviction.
We find out later that her cantankerous old landlord who lives next door is responsible for her impending eviction. The landlord, Alfie, (Tom Wilkinson – Michael Clayton, In the Bedroom) is a rich horticulturist with a stunning garden. The lonely pair, along with Alfie’s Irish cook Vernon (Andrew Scott – Sherlock, Spectre) form an unlikely friendship to match their unlikely selves. They fill the cracks in each other’s lives, becoming their own sort of family.
Writer, director Simon Aboud (Comes a Bright Day) creates a bit of magic with This Beautiful Fantastic. The set design highlights a fantastic color contrast between Bella’s world and Alfie’s world. Bella’s home and garden are gloomy and gray. Her wardrobe is a sea of black and gray shades. In contrast, the bright pinks, purples, and blues of Alfie’s shirts are in sync with the flowers in his garden and in his home. As the film progresses, we see the palette of Bella’s life beginning to bloom with color.
Although the characters came across a bit cookie cutter at times, they are still rather loveable. Something about this story line’s predictability made This Beautiful Fantastic feel more like a fairytale – and who doesn’t love a good fairytale?
The more I watched, the more of myself I saw in Bella. I was homeschooled as a child and grew up all over the world. When I moved to New Zealand, where I currently live, at 10 years old, I was kind of a freak. At least, I was different. Like Bella, my books were my friends – we moved around too often for me to maintain friendships with other kids. I knew a lot about Eastern culture but almost nothing about New Zealand Western culture (I had to learn to eat with a knife and fork). I often felt different and lonely, like Bella.
As a writer, my dream is to write my own novel and publish a book of poetry. I can totally relate to Bella’s self-doubt when she says, “I’m kidding myself, I’m no writer…” When Billy (Jeremy Irvine, Now is Good, Fallen), asks Bella what her book is about, she admits that it doesn’t quite have a storyline yet. I think being a writer and not knowing what to write about, or having anything published, is a bit of a catch-22. You have to believe you’re good enough to actually finish a book, but if you haven’t written anything yet, it’s hard to believe you have it in yourself.
The children’s story book that Bella finally writes is a total metaphor for making it through these setbacks. A bird called Luna wants to get to the top of a mountain to see the legendary beauty in the valley below, but she can’t fly. Luna’s journey to flying reflects Bella learning to ‘fly’ in her own life. Her ‘flying’ is like developing meaningful relationships and letting go of her need for control. Having faith in myself as a writer is a bit like learning to fly.
Although Bella’s character feels somewhat two dimensional, I could still see myself in her insecurity and creativity. As This Beautiful Fantastic progressed, I watched her realize the value of her uniqueness and it was a poignant reminder of the value of my own.
Usually, I like to watch films that get under my skin. This one didn’t. It was a different experience altogether. Instead of getting under my skin, it tickled it pleasantly like a sunshower.