Beautiful Thing (Hettie Macdonald)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Hokey but irresistible, Beautiful Thing is the ridiculously heartwarming story of two boys in London who fall in love; not only do they apparently live happily ever after, but they do so with the blessing of their entire community, courtesy of a finale that has to be seen to be believed. Obviously, this is very much an exercise in wish-fulfillment, but it's an inordinately charming one, buoyed by an impressive ensemble cast that collectively keeps the narrative grounded in reality even when it threatens to dissipate into cotton candy (if I may mix the holy hell out of my metaphors). The ensemble nature of Beautiful Thing is crucial, because while teenage protagonists Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal) are appealing and believable, these kids and their predicament aren't really strong enough to carry the film on their own -- their tentative romance is both too familiar and too passive. Fortunately, they don't have to, as they're surrounded by a gaggle of memorable and lively supporting characters, including Jamie's brazen, iron-willed mother (Linda Henry) and her addled, well-meaning boyfriend Tony, played by the hilarious Ben Daniels, who has most of the best lines ("I think we should move toward getting away from all that"). The film, written by Jonathan Harvey, was based upon his play of the same title, and while there is a certain staginess evident -- most of the main characters live in adjacent flats, for example -- director Hettie Macdonald (who also directed the play) generally manages to disguise the project's theatrical origin...whereas with last year's The Sum of Us, another gay-themed movie based on a popular stage play, I spent most of the running time looking for the proscenium arch. Beautiful Thing isn't exciting cinema, but it is a funny and touching look at the anxiety of young love (that anxiety is further aggravated here, for obvious reasons), and a pleasingly low-key plea for tolerance, and that's enough. The music of The Mamas and the Papas is prominently featured; those of you who've seen Chungking Express will be relieved to know that "California Dreamin'" is omitted.