ETERNAL BEAUTY Movie Poster | ©2020 Samuel Goldwyn Films

ETERNAL BEAUTY Movie Poster | ©2020 Samuel Goldwyn Films

Rating: R
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Alice Lowe, Billie Piper, Robert Pugh, Morfydd Clark, Paul Hilton, Boyd Clack, Elysia Welch, Penelope Wilton, David Thewlis, Spencer Deere
Writer: Craig Roberts
Director: Craig Roberts
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Release Date: October 2, 2020

ETERNAL BEAUTY is actually a good movie, but one that’s hard to recommend. Director/writer Craig Roberts has made a slightly impressionistic film about mental illness and toxic family relationships. It’s not that we don’t believe what we see, it’s that it is depressing without being illuminating.

Sally Hawkins plays Jane, who is being treated with both talk therapy and medication for some serious psychiatric issues. We see Jane trudging along the walkway in a housing estate. (ETERNAL BEAUTY is shot in Wales, but the accents suggest it is set in England.) Shortly thereafter, we get flashbacks to young Jane (Morfydd Clark) as a young bride being stood up at the altar.

It’s unclear if Jane’s problems stem from this incident, or whether she has a biochemical brain condition that has always been there. Either way, in the present, Jane hears voices, occasionally sees things, and behaves strangely.

As we get to know Jane’s family, it’s easy to see why she has problems. Mom (Penelope Wilton) is thoughtlessly toxic. Dad (Robert Pugh) is kind but mostly silent. Single sister Nicola (Billie Piper) is forever stealing the spotlight. Only married sister Alice (Alice Lowe) seems more or less balanced, although with trying to connect with her husband Tony (Paul Hilton) and caring for their young son Jack (Spencer Deere), she’s a bit preoccupied.

At the forty-minute mark, Jane meets Mike (David Thewlis), a fellow psychiatric patient who met her years before. A would-be rocker who’s unemployed, Mike courts Jane, who finds herself falling for his unconditional adoration. Well …

Filmmaker Roberts has an eye for small gestures that convey a great deal. A blurt of laughter, a flip of hair, a bit of curling wallpaper tell us a lot about the characters. He’s also got a color scheme for each of the sisters – blue for Jane, green for Nicola, orange-red for Alice – that creates a slightly fable-like quality. Sensitive viewers need not worry that ETERNAL BEAUTY is going to explore violent psychosis; apart from one hallucination of Jane’s, the most physically aggressive onscreen action is a slap.

There are some odd ambiguities in the film. We never know if what Jane tells Jack in a private moment is the truth or part of her delusion. Likewise, there’s one character who’s in and out of the action, but whose relationship to the family is never clear. These details don’t tank the film, but they are distracting.

Hawkins is a marvelous performer, and she makes us concerned for Jane. However, Jane’s behavior is so erratic in the present that we’re also concerned for those around her. ETERNAL BEAUTY makes it clear why her family either can’t or won’t keep a closer eye on her, but we find up feeling more pity than empathy.

Many viewers will recognize various aspects of ETERNAL BEAUTY’s characters and situations. It’s just that this recognition does not bring new insight. We may have met these people, we definitely feel bad for them, but – the awesome Hawkins aside – it doesn’t mean we want to spend time with them.

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