Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Fort Lauderdale Film Festival Diaries
Day 2 (November 8)

by Liza Bear

Fort Lauderdale, November 7, 1996

After the press conference at the Sheraton Yankee Trader, it's over to the reception in the Las Olas room, intriguingly decked out for the occasion by Cannon Productions with a melange of illuminated film motifs and palm tree iconography. While Florida's much-touted "casual ambience" is a mantra for this Festival, scheduling is brisk and shuttles - the out-of-towner's lifeline - are geared to show times. With a genial driver accommodating stragglers from the festivities, we make it under the wire and I can vouch for standing-room only crowds at the 7 o'clock screening of "Beautiful Thing".

A solid pick among the 28 films having their Southeast outing here, "Beautiful Thing" is a beautifully acted tale of slowly realized first love between two teenage boys in a London housing project. Directed by Hettie McDonald from a screen adaptation of Jonathan Harvey's successful stage play, the British Channel 4 production opened in New York, LA and Chicago last month and was platformed nationally on November 1. Wednesday's only Fort Lauderdale screening was "a huge hit," according to the manager of the AMC multiplex which houses the Festival free of charge. In spite of the enthusiastic audience response, the film opens Friday for a limited run at Cocowalk in Coconut Grove, and not, as might be expected, at the Gateway, which is a mile from the beach and in the heart of Fort Lauderdale's gay community.

While the film's title and working class setting may evoke "My Beautiful Laundrette", its treatment of the main theme couldn't be more different in tone, being much quieter and achingly intense, with the focus on the boys' feelings. Lead performances by Scott Neal and Glen Berry, as well as most of the lively supporting cast, are thoroughly authentic and gripping. Parental conflict and a third teenage neighbor, the Mama Cass-obsessed, burgeoning performance artist Leah, provide plenty of drama and humor to the story that at times verges on farce and magical realism but avoids mawkishness.

The two 16-year-olds living in adjacent apartments both have problematic single parents. The more fully-rounded of the two parents is Jamie's mum Sandra (Linda Henry) , who works in a pub and dates an intellectually pretentious younger man. Ste's alcoholic dad does not appreciate his son's sophisticated cuisine and beats up on him, forcing him to bolt next door. Initially, the boys sleep sweetly head-to-toe, but not for long. Fans of E. M. Forster's wonderful novel "Maurice" will recognize in writer Jonathan Harvey a modern-day focus on the internal, psychological aspects of accepting one's sexual identity, rather than on hard core eroticism, which should give this film a broad audience reach. Ironic use of musical numbers from an earlier era ("Sixteen Going on Seventeen"), as well as the Mamas and the Papas, also add to film's appeal.

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