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