Beautiful Thing

on October 11, 1996 by Carole Glines
A slice of British working-class life and the story of two gay teenagers' sexual awakening, "Beautiful Thing" has a definite agenda. Although everyone else in the movie yells obscenities at each other, the boy lovers pursue the tenderest of relationships. This makes for a nice coming-out picture for teens confused about their sexual identities, but it won't do for a much wider audience. The film begins with London pub manager and single mom Sandra (Linda Henry), who struggles to support her teenage son Jamie (Glen Berry). She doesn't know that Jamie is pining for his male schoolmate and next-door neighbor Ste (Scott Neal). After Ste's father beats him, Sandra offers the unhappy lad sanctuary in their flat. The two boys share a bed as Jamie pursues Ste and Ste struggles against his homosexuality.
The boys' relationship gradually becomes the beautiful thing the title promises. Although the audience is happy for them, one longs to see at least one other character presented compassionately. Sandra is a tough-as-nails, unfit mother, and her boyfriend, Tony (Ben Daniels), can only be described as bizarre. In one scene, he wears what looks like a woman's silk dressing-gown--yet no one comments on it. That couple and the other working-class characters spew four-letter words and insults, that being the only way they communicate. One neighbor in Sandra's apartment complex, a senseless young woman named Leah (Tameka Empson), is obsessed with the late singer Mama Cass of the '60s folk/rock group The Mamas and the Papas. That running joke seems included so that filmmakers can use (way too loudly) their music in the movie and pad the plot with some comic business. Tellingly, Leah becomes a sympathetic character only near the end, when she accepts Jamie and Ste's relationship and expresses a desire to become a lesbian herself.
Gay is great in these moviemakers' world view. Conservative folks might squirm at the scenes of the two boys kissing in a park, visiting a gay bar and rubbing lotion on each other. Audiences in between will just wish there were some other people in "Beautiful Thing" to like. Starring Linda Henry, Glen Berry and Scott Neal. Directed by Hettie Macdonald. Written by Jonathan Harvey. Produced by Tony Garnett and Bill Shapter. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Running time: 90 min.
Tags: Linda Henry, Glen Berry, Scott Neal, Directed by Hettie Macdonald, Written by Jonathan Harvey, Produced by Tony Garnett, Bill Shapter, A Sony Classics release, Drama, sympathetic, bizarre, gay, sexual

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