Put director Ted Demme’s Beautiful Girls, an ode to high school pals who live like they’re in the 13th grade, smack dab in the time-delayed classic category.
The 1996 film, now available for the first time on Blu-ray, didn’t make a mark during its theatrical debut but continues to impress with repeat viewings. The film features an impressive ensemble recreating a high school reunion bridging the gap between yesteryear and uncertain tomorrows.
Fledgling piano player Will (Timothy Hutton) serves as the catalyst for the film’s savvy brand of self-reflection. He’s barely surviving in Manhattan, so he jumps at the chance to go back to his small New England home town for a spell. He reunites with stable family man Mo (Noah Emmerich), former heartthrob Tommy (Matt Dillon) and the heartsick Paul (Michael Rappaport, whose obsession with supermodels serves as a clunky narrative through line).
They’re all struggling with the women in their lives. Paul’s girlfriend (Martha Plimpton) left him when he couldn’t commit. Tommy’s girl (Mira Sorvino) is threatened by a married woman trying to pry him away from her, and she has every right to be concerned. Even Will, the most secure of the bunch, can’t figure out if his big city girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) is the love of his life.
Meanwhile, a high school reunion looms ahead, and the surprise appearance of a woman any red-blooded male would describe as perfection (Uma Thurman) rattles the group’s emotional state all the more.
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg overreaches whenever Paul is waxing poetic about unattainable girls. And we certainly don’t need Rosie O’Donnell spouting the feminine perspective on these oft-clueless males. We get it. These overgrown boys refuse to accept the new realities of adulthood and live for the fantasy that a better, more voluptuous girl is right around the corner waiting for their cheesy pick up lines.
Rosenberg is more successful in navigating a potentially creepy subplot surrounding Will’s 13-year-old neighbor (a sublime Natalie Portman), a wise beyond her years teen who represents the potential men cling to when considering their current partners.
Like any film that lingers beyond its release date, Beautiful Girls nails the particulars, large and small, in the way guys think, act and dream. Consider the sad sack Kev (Max Perlich) who complains when a cheery housewife gives him hot chocolate but forgets to add a shot of Sambuca. His inflated sense of self could be genuine, or perhaps it’s a defense mechanism over years of being the odd man out.
Dillon excels at showing how self-destructive lapses can prevent men from moving on with their lives.
Beautiful Girls isn’t an attack on small-town values as much as people far too willing to let small town comforts prevent them from growing up.
The film’s classic rock soundtrack offers few surprises, but the song choices and timing prove nearly perfect. And while the sight of a bar full of folks singing the way song is one of film’s hoariest clichés, the Sweet Caroline sing-a-long captures why there’s no cure for some enduring high school memories.
“Nothing changes around here, Will,” Paul cautions his old friend upon his return home. Not quite. Beautiful Girls shows how some men are dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood, clinging to their better memories along the way.
The Blu-ray release features some meaty extras shot closer to the film’s initial release date as well as some music from retro crooner Chris Isaak.