Enchanting Eccentrics Part 2: Watch on hoopla and Acorn TV

Summer blockbusters are all well and good, but if you’re not really in the mood for a creature feature or epic save-the-world adventure, take heart: the Abbot Library may just have some congenial viewing for you! Charming-oddball flicks may not always have quite the box-office stamina of superhero films, but they’re sure to reward the discriminating viewer who’s not afraid to take some cinematic chances on unlikely heroes.

So, if you’ve got a good sense of humor, quite a bit of heart, and are up for the challenge, have a look at our newly-curated collection on hoopla–2020 APL Enchanting Eccentrics (Film). Here you’ll find French, British, and Swedish films with protagonists ranging from a piquantly mischievous ingénue to a suicidal curmudgeon to an entire village-worth of stubborn Welshmen and women. 

Amélie captured hearts and tickled funnybones on both sides of the Atlantic when it was first released in 2001, and it has certainly lost nothing of its appeal. Sweetly off-kilter since childhood, the title character toggles between an emotionally distant father, a reclusive but wise old painter, and the amour she worships from afar–a misfit like herself with a peculiar photographic obsession.

A Man Called Ove brings Fredrik Backman’s beloved book to life, rendering the world-weary Ove with striking–often heartbreaking, but never sentimental–precision, all the while pitting the  dark humor of his perspective against the irrepressible liveliness of a neighboring young family. 

For something a bit more frothy, yet with an abundance of World War I-era period charm, you might turn to one of film history’s longest-titled movies: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain. Starring a youthful Hugh Grant and sparkling Tara Fitzgerald, this mock-epic romp showcases idiosyncratic British (excuse me, Welsh) local pride at its best. 

If you listened to the previously-recommended book The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (yet another candidate for longest title!), you might want to judge for yourself how well it translated to the big screen.

Other offerings will quietly break your heart (Still Life, starring Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey), have you rooting for a gang of Baby Boomers-turned-bank-robbers (Golden Years, also available on Acorn TV), and revive your belief in happy endings–even for the most cantankerous and neurotic of characters (This Beautiful Fantastic–see also a previous review of the film).

If you’re ready to commit to a bit of bingeing, check out 2020 APL Enchanting Eccentrics (TV), on hoopla, featuring two BBC series that just about wrote the playbook for unconventional character-based comedy.

Over the course of three captivating seasons, The Detectorists follows the travails and triumphs of two endearing geeks (played by Toby Jones of The Hunger Games and Mackenzie Crook of Pirates of the Carribean) who are forever hoping that their next metal-detecting session will uncover a hoard of Saxon gold. Doc Martin (starring Martin Clunes)–all nine seasons of which are also available on Acorn TV–introduces an apparently opposite protagonist, a high-flying London surgeon whose suddenly-developed hemophobia sends him to a Cornish backwater. But his social awkwardness, essential loneliness, and refusal to suffer fools gladly somehow render him irresistible. 

Acorn TV offers a wealth of similar fare, a standout of which is Kingdom, starring Stephen Fry as a surprisingly sympathetic solicitor. Unlike Doc Martin, the main character is the sanest of the bunch in his Norfolk town, and he finds himself disentangling clients’ problems while coping with his own dysfunctional family. You’ll be tickled and captivated by his adventures.

Here’s hoping you find plenty of eccentric enchantment to while away the summer hours!

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.