If you believe the near-constant barrage of ads glorifying the bold, the beautiful and the attractively conformist, then only those fitting a very narrow ideal of social acceptance have any chance of finding love.
But Simon Aboud’s absolutely delightful film This Beautiful Fantastic (he both wrote and directed the film) openly and sweetly defies this blatant misrepresentation by placing two avowedly non-conformist people, hovering nervously on society’s fringes, smack bang in the middle of Cupid’s firing line.
Bella Brown (Jessica Brown Findlay) is described as the “oddest of oddballs”, an insular, socially-awkward woman who grew up in an orphanage after being abandoned in a park by her parents, and raised, for a few hours at least, by ducks (with whom she retains an affinity), who lives her life with rigidly-confined lines with everything from her food to her clothes and her toothbrushes (one for every day of the week) arranged carefully to an excruciatingly obsessive-compulsive degree.
The only time she allows herself any out-of-the-box freedom – even her job as a librarian is rigidly-circumscribed by her militantly legalistic boss Miss bramble (Anne Chancellor) who punishes even the smallest infraction – is when she is reading.
Books have provided her with solace and escape through life, the one place free from judgement and expectation where no one judges her for the slightly frumpy though art deco glam clothes she wears or the number of times she has to touch two parts of her front door before she’s free to walk away for the day.
It’s no surprise then that she’s an aspiring writer, tapping out her stories on an adorably retro typewriter in her kitchen when inspiration strikes; alas as she admits to Billy (Jeremy Irvine), a young man she fancies who wanders into the library one day in all his disheveled, art-loving glory, she is a writer in search of a story, something which Billy points out, and Bella agrees, is rather essential if you want to be a writer.
Billy is a study in flouting society’s conventions.
Nerdishly handsome and possessed of an indefatigable curiosity for art and the science of Leonardo da Vinci, he has created a magically mechanical flying bird called Luna which enchants Bella who begins to weave a grand and epic fairytale of a flightless bird who dreams of flying up to the highest mountain in Iran to see thousands of red colours carpeting a valley floor.
Dreamt up in stages as she and Billy spend more and more time together, both within and without the library, the story is an allegory of her growing relationship with Billy and the way it, and her adversarial interactions with her neighbour and passionate horticulturist Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), are slowly but surely forcing her to leave her time-honoured comfort zones.
One particular comfort zone that Bella is averse to depart, although an edict from her landlord’s representative that she must take action within a month or face eviction, is taming the wild garden that swirls and covers the home in which she lives.
Due most likely to being left alone in a park, she abhors nature generally, and plants in particular, making any gardening work a near-Herculean task she is loathe to tackle despite Alfie’s nagging admonition that she do so and do so immediately.
Her only compatriot in this endeavour is Alfie’s ex-cook Vernon (Andrew Scott) who refuses to work for Bella’s irascible neighbour any longer, having endured his withering remarks and plain rudeness for far too long (he’s a single dad so the job matters to him but not as much as his sanity).
Together, over the course of This Beautiful Fantastic, which falls very much into the Amelie magical realism camp without once being derivative of that classic film, these highly-disparate souls, none of whom are orbiting the bright stars of mainstream society, nor meeting its emptily-exacting standards, come to form a family of sorts, a gathering together that ends up being the making of all of them in one way or another.
Lit by a luminous glow much of the time, courtesy of cinematographer Mike Eley that accentuates the grounded-magicality of the narrative, This Beautiful Fantastic elevates the misfits and the outcast, the outliers who society says should not have love or have a place to belong, in the most affirming and rewarding of ways.
Powered by a script that rarely puts a foot wrong and keeps a number of storyline balls tumbling nicely along to a pleasingly blissful resolution, the film is everything you want a romantic comedy to be.
Filled with real people grappling with all too real situations, it celebrates the primacy of Bella’s journey from a wounded, sealed-off soul afraid of her own shadow to a woman who embraces life’s many and varied possibilities and the people who come carrying them.
It showcases how transformating love and acceptance can be, whether its between friends, lovers and stray acquaintances – the supporting characters, who are near-uniformly inflexible, are highly memorable – and that it’s everyone’s right to be a part of such wonder and charm regardless of where they sit on society’s scale of acceptability.
In so many ways This Beautiful Fantastic is a joyously love and live-affirming treat, possessed of a vigour and thirst for life that entrances, enthralls and invigorates, a delightfully lovely reminder love comes calling for everyone and when it does, that it can utterly change the very fabric of your life for the better if you’ll let it.