Recommended Viewing: This Beautiful Fantastic

There are the blockbuster films everyone watches, the ones with “buzz.” There are the films the art-house crowd relishes for experimental cinematics or complex plotting. Then there are the quietly charming, unassuming movies that you just happen to stumble upon, possibly while in search of one of these other sorts. British-made This Beautiful Fantastic (available on hoopla) is just such a gem.

Not least among its attractions is the familiar and hugely talented cast, in some cases playing a bit against type and doing it splendidly. Tom Wilkinson (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among a host of other films) has long been beloved on both sides of the Atlantic; here he plays a crusty, incorrigible, yet oddly charismatic neighbor to Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey fame. Her character here is a far cry from the self-confident, boundary-pushing Sybil. Instead, Bella is a slightly agoraphobic, obsessive-compulsive library assistant who aspires to write children’s books whilst trying to avoid her anxiety-producing jungle of a back garden. And most surprisingly of all, Andrew Scott–the creepily zany Moriarity of BBC’s Sherlock–plays a brotherly boy-next-door who is a key figure in the rehabilitation of Wilkinson’s and Findlay’s dysfunctional lives.

Thankfully, This Beautiful Fantastic isn’t a standard romantic comedy, however, nor does the boy-next-door become a boyfriend. The twin catalysts of the plot are a garden and a library, with the former forcing Bella to confront her crippling fears and the latter providing a somewhat comic backdrop for a mutually beneficial (and yes, adorably romantic) creative relationship. Gardens and libraries–what better sources for stories! While there is little to surprise the viewer here, there is much to delight. A sort of warm, Edenic innocence–with a touch of fable– envelops us as Bella and her imagined heroine learn to fly (and no, the metaphor doesn’t feel hackneyed).

So, if you’re up for some gentle entertainment as you navigate the new norms of our state’s cautious reopening, join the heroine of this well-told tale as she gradually emerges from her dim, well-ordered world into the strange and beautiful one outside her door.

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