A Beautiful Life

a beautiful lifeI am sure that the filmmakers and cast of “A Beautiful Life” had good intentions.  However, as my father used to say, “The gateway to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  Hence the case of   “A Beautiful Life,” an unconvincing, stiffly acted, meandering, groan inducing, at points unintentionally funny drama about intersecting lives in a really bad section of Los Angeles.

As soon as Maggie, a teenage runaway (Angela Sarafyan), steps off of a bus and tries to find a place to spend the night, it is obvious that she has been miscast.  Sarafyan is too pretty, middle class, suburban looking with nice hair and makeup to be a convincing runaway.  She is soon taken in by David (Jesse Garcia) an illegal Mexican immigrant and Esther (Ling Bai) a pole dancer with a heart of gold.  Both Maggie and David work at a strip club where we get many gratuitous shots of the strippers at work.

Since Maggie is the main character I needed to know her back story quickly in order for the film’s tenuous grip on my suspension of disbelief to be maintained.  In other words what happened to Maggie before she got on the bus to this bad section of town?  Maybe there is a good reason why she looks a bit too neat to be a runaway.  For that matter why did she get off the bus in the “stripper” section of LA instead of someplace a little safer?  Could it be that she did this for the convenience of the screenplay?

Maggie’s body has scars as does David’s.  Gee, could it be that their scars are emotional as well as physical?  Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.  The story moves sluggishly as we know we will get inevitable explanation about how they got their scars.

It takes a while for “A Beautiful Life” to arrive at the heart of its story and by the time it does the audience is already several steps ahead.  The relationships between Maggie, David and Esther are not believable or compelling.  In fact, the Esther character serves almost no purpose and has no resolution. Story revelations come out of nowhere.  A sub plot concerning David’s mother trying to cross the Mexican border is never resolved.

Some of the dialogue is awkwardly theatrical (the film is adapted from a play) conflicting with the realism that the film seems to want to portray.  Toward the end of the movie there are two individual confrontation scenes between Maggie and each of her parents.  These scenes are so badly written, acted and blatantly expositional, with the quality of an Acting 101 improvisation exercise, that I cannot believe the director even let the film go out this way.

“A Beautiful Life,” title never explained, is having what I am sure must be a contract mandated token release, at the Quad, 34 West 13 St.

A Beautiful Life, director Alejandro Chomski, 2009,

New Films International, 81 minutes

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 3, 2009, in What were they thinking?. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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