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Gay Writes Friday Film Review: Beautiful Thing

Beautiful ThingBeautiful Thing (1996)
Genre: Romance/Drama/Comedy
Grade: B

Note for most viewers: Turn the subtitles ON!

I’ve had this film in my Netflix queue for awhile because of recs made here after Sarah’s review of “Latter Days” and when she told me about what she wants to do for next Monday, I zipped it up to a top spot so I could get the ball rolling. Like an earlier GLBT movie I reviewed, “Saving Face,” this one is about coming out to yourself and to the world. But this time, the place is working class London and the romance is between two young men.

Jamie (Glen Berry) is a quiet, shy lad who ducks out of sport at school and lives in a council flat with his 30 something mother Sandra (Linda Henry). On either side of them are Leah (Tameka Empson) who adores the music of Mama Cass – and tends to play it at all hours and at top volume – and Ste (Scott Neal) who is the same age and more social adept but who also gets beaten by his brother and drunken father seemingly just for the hell of it. Out of pity, Sandra will let Ste stay overnight at her flat which is how the boys first begin to realize that their feelings for each other might go beyond just being friendly neighbors. But do they have the courage to admit these growing feelings to each other, much less to a world that might not understand? Or approve.

The groovy opening music of Mama Cass lets you know what the soundtrack for the movie will be like. At first I wasn’t too sure but by the end of the film, I was starting to think about buying it. Even if you don’t care for these songs, just sit and listen to the lyrics. They are almost eerily perfect for what’s going on onscreen. There is one additional song in the movie but not on the soundtrack or sung by Cass which made me smile and then nod my head at its inclusion: “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from “The Sound of Music” with its line “I’ll take care of you.”

The subject matter is serious and never treated lightly though there are comic relief moments mainly provided by Leah. But even she has a darker undercurrent as a woman with little hope for anything different in her life than what the housing project offers. However, the main emphasis of the movie is the relationship with Jamie and Ste and between Jamie and his mother.

I found it interesting that the loner and socially clumsy Jamie is more sure of and ready to take a chance on their relationship than Ste. Maybe because Jamie had little to lose and wasn’t afraid of his mother whereas Ste was already bruised and beaten down by his family and stood to be shunned by those he knew. And it’s not just a hard life for Ste. Everyone there fights for every inch upwards in life.

Director Hettie Macdonald doesn’t hit you over the head with the story nor use heavy handed tactics to make a point. The feel of the film isn’t preachy at all. It’s not a depressing downer but is fairly blunt about the battles the characters are fighting. And it’s not pro m/m at the expense of f/m or anything else/anything else. To me, the message seems to be ‘what’s right for you is right for you.’ The film has an R rating but I think that’s mainly due to the fact that it’s m/m and has strong language. If it were about f/m young love, I doubt the rating would be that restrictive since the love scenes are tame.

There are some wonderful scenes to watch out for including Ste and Jamie running through some woods and sharing a hot kiss to “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” Sounds silly when I describe it but on screen, it’s magical. Then when Sandra confronts her son with her new suspicions about his sexuality and he confirms them, she’s stunned. But instead of rejecting him, she pulls him into an embrace and comforts him as he cries. She then says something like, “Did you think I would put you out in the morning like an empty milk bottle?” It’s heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Jamie is still accepted by her but how many others aren’t so lucky?

One section that didn’t seem quite right to me is the scene where Jamie and Ste go to a gay bar. Here they are, teenagers, in a bar filled with older drag queens and the impression I got is that the two boys think they’ve found their new home away from home. Really? I also wish that Jamie and Ste had been a little more fleshed out as characters. Sandra and Leah are more vibrant than either of the boys individually.

The film ends in a HFN. The final scene is, maybe just a touch, unrealistic with the public dance and embrace between the two lads – since some of the neighbors are obviously shocked and Ste’s family still doesn’t know. It’s definitely not going to be all fluffy bunnies and sunbeams from here out despite the fact that we aren’t going to see any of this. But Sandra and Leah’s final show of support for Jamie and Ste is fabulous. Sandra is a tough woman and what she does and how she does it is totally in character for her but it still brought a tear to my eye. If it could only always be that easy for those facing coming out and being truthful about who they are. B

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

16 Comments

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  2. Ceilidh
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 08:58:45

    Oh I love this movie! That final scene to “Dream a Little Dream” is so…*swoon* Lack of realism be damned, those guys deserved a happy ending!

  3. Sunita
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 10:12:25

    Oh, I love this movie, for all the reasons you’ve given, and despite the flaws you point out. It just feels so happy, and I like that it’s about ordinary kids in a working class environment.

    My favorite schoolfriends-find-each-other UK movie is still Different for Girls, which for some inexplicable reason is not available on DVD, or at least not on US Netflix. WTF? Stephen Macintosh is absolutely amazing, and Rupert Graves keeps up with him. It falls down a bit in the second half, but overall it’s still excellent. And yes, they use the Joe Jackson song.

    Another UK film about romance and coming out that I thought was quite good is Get Real. Ben Silverstone is terrific.

  4. Sunita
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 10:15:02

    Oops, I knew I’d misspell his name, it’s Steven Mackintosh.

  5. Mfred
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 10:46:49

    One section that didn't seem quite right to me is the scene where Jamie and Ste go to a gay bar. Here they are, teenagers, in a bar filled with older drag queens and the impression I got is that the two boys think they've found their new home away from home. Really?

    It’s been years since I’ve seen this movie, so I can’t speak to this scene specifically. I can, however, speak to the sense of “gay haven” that gay bars can be– that no matter how different everyone in the bar is, no one in that place will mess with you for being gay. This is especially true, I think, for your first time at a gay bar.

  6. Jayne
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 11:20:48

    @Ceilidh: So true. I was reading about the movie at a site that reviews gay films and the reviewer said it wasn’t totally realistic but that gay people deserved their fantasy HEA movie endings as much as the next person.

  7. Jayne
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 11:22:23

    @Sunita: I’ve seen “Get Real” mentioned a lot, both at IMDB and other review sites, as another good GLBT movie.

  8. Jayne
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 11:26:20

    @Mfred: Thanks for the feedback on this. The film did convey that Ste and Jamie seemed at bit hesitant at first but then appeared to relax as the scene progressed. I had just wondered if they were too “at ease” among all these older (eg not teenager) people.

  9. Chicklet
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 11:53:27

    I love, love, LOVE this movie. It’s heartfelt without being sentimental, and the performances are outstanding. (And you should buy the soundtrack; I bought it on my way home from the theatre, and it’s worth every penny!)

    I’m seconding the recommendation of Get Real. You might be tempted to compare it to Beautiful Thing (they’re both about gay teen boys in England), but I urge you to resist that temptation, because they are different from each other. For one thing, Get Real is set in a town called Basingstoke and is about characters who are in the upper-middle class, unlike the characters from Beautiful Thing, who live in a South London housing project. The issues of class, work, and domestic violence that are featured in Beautiful Thing don’t exist in Get Real.

  10. Maili
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 13:21:19

    @Jayne: I avoided “Get Real” for a long time because it’s an adaptation of Patrick Wilde’s highly influential play, “What’s Wrong With Angry?” Then one day, I decided to watch it. It was surprisingly good.

    I prefer Get Real (and Sugar Rush) to Beautiful Thing (also to My Beautiful Laundrette and Lost in You), purely because I think I had enough classic gritty social realism element (in British films) to last me a lifetime. :D All are very good, though.

  11. Silvia
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 20:24:36

    As excellent as Get Real is as a teenage queer empowerment film, I have to admit that for re-watchability Beautiful Thing always wins out for me because of the HEA. (but then, I read romance novels… so not unexpected). Maybe the ending is a little ~sweet, but so many gay films have a tragedy-tinged ending (death, rejection, or the relationship didn’t work out) that it’s refreshing to get a nice optimistic wrap-up.

    Until the recent m/m surfer boy romance Shelter (trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93IVhORpIbc ), Beautiful Thing was my favorite m/m movie.

    Another interesting queer-themed romance I’d strongly recommend is the French modern-musical Les Chansons d’amour. [Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s54vpKAFmS0 ] It’s rather intriguing, in that the sexuality of the main characters is very fluid (includes f/m, f/m/f polyamory, and m/m). Not much plot; the basic theme is about the joy & the pain to be found in relationships — the film moves through desire, jealousy, grief&loss, longing, and ends with hope as a relationship falters, tragedy strikes, and the protagonist struggles against moving on to a new chance at love. (there’s not much coming out drama here–the male protagonist is primarily concerned with the dangers of opening your heart again, not that his new love interest is a man.)

    Another rec: for a f/f themed film, But I’m A Cheerleader is both a wacky satire and cute romance.

  12. Silvia
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 17:26:45

    I was just talking about movies with a friend, which jogged my memory — thought I’d come back here and rec some more “classic” m/m romance films:

    Trick (m/m) is one of those that comes up in conversation again and again when people are discussing gay movies they own. It’s just a cute ’90’s gay rom-com. Basic premise: a dorky aspiring writer is shocked when a gorgeous stripper agrees to go back to his place for quickie-sex. Except then everything starts to go wrong, and they can’t find any place to have their one-night stand. So over the course of the night they accidentally end up getting know each other instead of getting it on. trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oCl2t9pn_0

    Big Eden is a huge fan favorite and I’ve watched it several times. Typical romance plot: Successful NYC artist returns to the small rural mountain town he grew up in when his grandfather becomes ill. Of course, he finds new purpose and finds his true love. (while being distracted by an old flame) The formula is a classic, but this film adds some twists to make it fresh. Plus, the acting & writing is a bit more polished than many gay films. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZXgtGqhgws

    All Over The Guy. Basic premise: the story is about 2 sets of best friends (a straight woman and her troubled commitment-phobe gay friend & a straight guy and his geeky gay best friend). When the straight woman and man have a meet-cute and start dating they think it would be perfect if they could set up their gay best friends — who are actually complete opposites that go together like oil & water. Slutty commitment-phobe guy gets the typical romance hero backstory, where his self-destructive behavior comes from an unhappy childhood and he has to deal with his issues. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9RMeIR1DgQ

    Plus:
    If Walls Could Talk 2 is a compilation of f/f short films. Most of the shorts are character dramas as opposed to romance, but my fav short is the 1970’s romance between a “non-conformist” lesbian student who falls for a very butch “dyke on bike” chick — the actresses have great chemistry and it’s very sexy, plus the character dynamics are interesting as you have the supposedly anti-establishment free-thinking friends being very judgmental about the butch chick. (this “debate” about gender stereotypes and what it means to reject or reframe them is still on-going in the lesbian community) [a clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jiGrwoFIs0 ]

  13. Chicklet
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 21:37:08

    @Silvia: Ooh, yes, I like Trick and Big Eden a lot, too. Other recent favorites include Shelter and Were the World Mine, which is a bit of an odd duck, but I love the music sooooo much.

    Gah, now I’m going to spend tomorrow rewatching a bunch of these movies instead of doing the cleaning I had promised myself I would finish. :-)

  14. Jacqueline
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 23:42:57

    I love this film…a love story about 2 young men, with a sincerity rarely scene in the movies these days.

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  16. Neomie
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 01:52:31

    I love this movie a lot because it shows how gay people were bullied and lived in fear of their parents finding out the truth and hating them. In the end some parents manage to accept their children no matter what while some would abandon them. As anyone who watched this movie knows Jamie’s mother ended up accepting him and Ste even though they are gay.

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