Mondays are full of manic mourning, depressed dirges, and caffeine clinging from all of us as we try to buck up and face the start of another week. There are to-do lists waiting, meetings and expectations, all those places we have to be, couldn’t we all use a little break in-between the most dire of days?
For me, I look forward to those “take me away” moments tucked into an otherwise busy day, be it the playlist played loudly on my long commute in, the writing that I go back to while waiting for another calendar reminder, or report to run, or the audio book that comes to tell me a story on my even longer drive home. Maybe the next letter choice for the A-to-Z Cinematic Love Story Series would help make this Monday be a little better. Can you help us out, Beautiful Girls?Beautiful Girls (1996)
Written by Scott Rosenberg
Directed by Ted Demme
Alright, so the picture above might not suggest a “love story” since there is an obvious uncomfortable (and illegal) age difference between Timothy Hutton’s Willie and Natalie Portman’s Marty, but they reveal more about love within their unlikely friendship than most adult relationships on-screen ever do. Marty schools Willie on the ways of growing up, of getting over yourself and seeing what it is you have, and Willie, he gives Marty her first crush, her first heartbreak, and her first lesson on the imperfections of love, and adulthood.
I will admit that a part of me hopes that Willie and Marty would run into each other years later, maybe in New York, where Marty is in Grad School and Willie is renting a studio to record an album of duets with Polly Jean Harvey. Willie would be sat in a bar around the corner, on a break, sipping on a Jameson on the rocks when Marty walks in. She is there with friends, they talk excitedly about a book that Marty just found out is being being published, a book about going home again. Willie would see her first and watch for awhile, unnoticed, wondering if he should go over and say hello. It is Marty who comes over though, smiling, asking him “whatcha’ drinking Pooh?” and maybe they would become lovers, or perhaps still be the kind of friends that become the source of inspiration, connection as muse, as motivation, as music and literature.
In reality, though, Willie’s Tracy was a sort of Marty grown-up, and Willie’s friendship with Marty help him open his eyes and see that. Maybe Marty’s first love would be a younger Willie, or perhaps he would be nothing like him at all. As all good stories, we are left to wonder.
Uma Thurman’s Andrea was the “beautiful girl” of the story. She rolled into town, a stranger in a strange land related (to all the guys’ surprise) bartender, and one by one all the guys in the bar (who are all the guys in the story) trip all over themselves trying to get her attention. She is the Siren, the Unattainable, the Dream Girl, and for awhile the story feels like it might lead to Willie going off with Andrea. The thing about Andrea, though, is that under the surface, this beauty is loyal to her lover who keeps her coming back with the simplest of things, like a morning newspaper, a cup of coffee, and a “Good Morning, Sweet Girl“.
Late night ice fishing
Wait, is Andrea shacking up with “you, me and five bucks” Troy Dyer?
Uma Thurman & Ethan Hawke, 1996 (Hmmmm….)
So, the boys, well, Willie mostly, wake up to the reality that maybe there is a bar full of boys who are tripping all over each other for their girls and perhaps they should get their shit together and “love the one their with” before someone else does. Hmmm…I’m not sure that is a love to aspire to though, is it? Be my faithful, forever lover because you don’t want someone else to be? What would Marty think of that?
There are other couples and other “love stories” that unravel on-screen, but they are all part and parcel to Willie’s lessons about love. There is Matt Dillon’s “left his heart in High School” Tommy “Birdman” who can’t keep his eyes (or his hands, and other appendages) off of his “High School Lover” (who is now married to someone else) Lauren Holly’s Darian, even while he plays house with Mira Sorvino’s Sharon, who is so self-destructive and co-dependent that it hurts to look at her.
There is the seemingly happily married couple, Michael and Sarah, who are admittedly bland and boring, Michael Rappaport’s Paul who is too busy beating off to “beautiful girl” Super Models on his wall to realize he has Jan in the flesh who tries to love him (the only woman who really confronts anyone in this, except for Marty). Oh, and then there are the weirdos and the non-skinny characters who are of course all alone – Rosie O’Donnell’s perennial best friend singleton Gina, who tries to teach the boys about big boobs being only a part of big girls (you are wasting your time on them, Gina, move the fuck out of that town), Pruitt Taylor Vince’s Stanley (nicknamed “Stinky”) who tends the bar, puts up with these guys adolescent shenanigans, and who no one can believe is related to Andrea, and Max Perlich’s perennial best friend singleton Kev, a character I never can quite figure out.
Maybe Willie is the most well-adjusted of the bunch, after all (not counting Marty, or course).
Willie got away though. He is the one that left town and moved to the big city, and is now the one who has returned home to what exactly? To sulk? To fall for an unattainable underage girl and an equally unattainable of-age girl? Or, is it to get the chance to lead a all-bar sing-a-long to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline?
“So good, so good, so good.”
Is it all meant to make Willie realize that Annabeth Gish’s Tracy is the one worth leaving home with, or is he settling for her? I mean, he did just say, the night before, that when he thought about Tracy’s arrival he is ambivalent. Wow, the romance there is heart-stopping, isn’t it?
Something about the movie though, despite the characters at times, and beyond their flaws and failures, has me returning often to it. It has become one of my comfort cling to cinematic choices that make me feel something. Who do I root for? Who do I love? Who do I crush on? How do I think it ends after the ending? It all depends on who I am when I watch it.
I know that it is Marty and Andrea who have stuck with me the longest, who I admire and have often quoted; it is the two of them I root for.
I forever love Willie and Marty’s friendship, and that odd kind of “maybe some day” spell it has on me. I think it harkens on my early adolescent crushes on musicians and friends’ older brothers, and that wish of some day that butterly-winged inside of me.
“Romeo and Juliet, the dyslexic version.”
As for crush-worthy feelings, well, he’s an ass, and no matter how much his face and ego took a beating in the story, I think he remains an ass, but damn, Matt Dillon still gives me the fluttery chills. Maybe he represents the “one that got away” syndrome that I have wrestled with through my adulthood, too. Maybe that makes me the ass.
It is the other ass though, Willie, who I think I relate to the most. The going backwards and waxing nostalgic tendencies, the wayward restless heart that is never quite sure of where he is, and the wistful wishing he feels towards his future, and all that he thinks it will be, and won’t be. The writer in me recognizes the musician in him, that artist dysfunctional connection, or something. We all want our lives to be something beautiful.
Beautiful Girl :: Pete Droge