Writer/director Simon Aboud’s (Comes A Bright Day, Enchantement (Short)) latest film This Beautiful Fantastic transports us to the timeless world of a young Bella Brown, Jessica Brown Findlay (Victor Frankenstein, The Riot Club).
Bella lives a structured life. Structured might actually be an understatement. Bella has a different toothbrush for every day of the week and covers her front door windows with bubble wrap. That might be a better way to describe her compulsion for order.
She dresses in a monochromatic colour scheme of grey, greyish blue, greyish green and black button-down shirts. There is neither a single piece of furniture out of place nor a speck of dust in her entire home.
The only hint of chaos in Bella’s life exists outside of her zone of comfort; her garden which has become a tangled and disordered mess of weeds, unruly vines, and destroyed flora and fauna.
Bella is a budding writer. However, she spends her days working at a library, the absolute pinnacle of organization and silence; an environment suitable for a person like her. It isn’t until Bella meets her next-door neighbour Alfie, Tom Wilkinson (Selma, The Grand Budapest Hotel), a disgruntled and scornful elderly Englishman, that her life begins to shift.
Alfie introduces Bella to the world of gardening and what seems like an old man’s hobby develops into a sort of therapy for both characters that eventually turns into a friendship neither one of them expected but desperately needed.
If Aboud’s film were a modern-day fairy tale and Bella it’s ingénue, then Alfie would be a sort of unlikely fairy godmother figure, opening up Bella’s mundane and greyscale world to magic, love and insight.
Her next-door neighbour’s cook, the charming Irishmen Vernon, Andrew Scott (Spectre, Sherlock (TV)) would be her comical companion that cares deeply for her.
Finally, what is any fairy tale without a bit of romance? While at work at the library, Bella meets and immediately develops a crush on a young man named Billy, Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Stonewall), a sort of disorganised, befuddled young inventor who inspires Bella to write and publish her first children’s book by the end of the film.
I don’t remember the last time I watched a film that made me smile as much as This Beautiful Fantastic did. Often times, with fantastical films we feel quite removed from the reality of the events. On the other hand, deeply realistic stories often revolve around topics of trauma or sadness that may or may not be overcome by the end of the movie.
With This Beautiful Fantastic, Aboud manages to place us in this period-less world that is also so relatable. He introduces us to characters that have built walls around themselves to block out both physical and emotional experiences.
For Alfie, his searing remarks and meanness are the manifestation of the walls that he’s built around himself to protect him from showing his softness and sadness. Bella’s approach is more literal. She has created a safe haven for herself within her home that she refuses to escape.
With this film, we learn that life with all its quirks and tricks has a peculiar way of finding its way through these walls we build around ourselves. And when it does, we realize how badly we needed those experiences and how important it is for us to be open ourselves up to the possibility of companionship and friendship as difficult as it might seem.