Eternal Beauty

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Eternal Beauty
dir-scr Craig Roberts
prd Adrian Bate
with Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Alice Lowe, Billie Piper, Penelope Wilton, Robert Pugh, Morfydd Clark, Paul Hilton, Boyd Clack, Elysia Welch, Spencer Deere, Rita Bernard-Shaw
release US 21.Aug.20,
UK 2.Oct.20
19/UK BFI 1h34

lowe piper wilton
london film fest

Is it streaming?

thewlis and hawkins
Films about depression and mental instability are tricky to pull off, but actor-turned-filmmaker Craig Roberts brings a superbly expressive visual style to this darkly comical story. It's an ambitious approach that balances bleak drama with quirky humour, digging deeply into the characters while spinning the events into a warm romance, and much more. And Sally Hawkins anchors the terrific cast with a performance that's both engaging and wrenching.
After being dumped at the altar, Jane (Clark) had a psychological breakdown. Two decades later, Jane (now Hawkins) is still unable to make emotional sense of her life, not helped at all by her self-absorbed family: pushy mum Vivian (Wilton), browbeaten dad Dennis (Pugh) and cruel sister Nicola (Piper). At least older sister Alice (Lowe) makes a bit more of an effort, even if her husband (Hilton) sets Jane off. Tired of being heavily medicated by her doctor (Clack), Jane stops taking her pills. And she finds herself connecting to fellow oddball Mike (Thewlis).
It's not always easy to watch as Jane is tormented by her personal demons. But she's also astute enough to see details others overlook. Roberts reveals her perceptiveness using witty direction and production design, including some clever in-camera trickery that keeps the audience questioning whether things are real or in Jane's lively imagination. It's colourful and often brittly hilarious, with echoes of both Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry. And as it unfolds, the story includes some startlingly tense moments, including a large dose of foreboding.

Hawkins gives a remarkably textured performance, continually revealing telling elements of Jane's personality. She may seem hopelessly batty, but she's easily the most likeable person in her family, a woman broken by a trauma and finally finding healing on her own terms. Thewlis is charming as the equally offbeat Mike, effortlessly making Jane smile, and vice versa. Meanwhile, Lowe and Piper skilfully bring some unnerving presence to their smaller roles, while Wilton gives an astonishing turn as the passive-aggressive Vivian.

This is a fascinating dive into the mind of a woman whose life has gone off the rails, chillingly exploring the unhealthy family dynamic that has fuelled her mental collapse. Even if everything is tempered by the precariously light tone, many scenes revolve around painful situations that reveal grim truths. So it's remarkable that Roberts never wallows in Jane's pain, isolating the real life even in the more surreal moments, while including flickers of compassion and happiness. This certainly isn't comfort cinema, but it's impressive filmmaking with a cathartic kick.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 27.Sep.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall