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‘Beautiful Girls’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 09, 1996


Ted Demme
Matt Dillon;
Lauren Holly;
Timothy Hutton;
Rosie O'Donnell;
Natalie Portman;
Michael Rapaport;
Mira Sorvino;
Uma Thurman;
Max Perlich;
Noah Emmerich;
Annabeth Gish;
Martha Plimpton
mild sexual situations, a violent fight and considerable profanity

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Life may seem dull and unpromising in the fictional town of Knight's Ridge, Mass., the kind of place where men shovel snow for a living while women wait on tables—or spend their time in hair salons complaining about men.

But in "Beautiful Girls," screenwriter Scott Rosenberg's bittersweet comedy about thirtysomething boys, girls and the love thing, Knight's Ridge is seething with romantic frustration. The movie is wry, touching and fun to sit through, thanks to Rosenberg's amusing script, Ted Demme's vital direction and zesty performances from everyone, including Timothy Hutton, Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon, Rosie O'Donnell and Michael Rapaport.

Hutton, a former Knight's Ridge resident, is visiting his old haunts again. As he hangs at home with his father and brother and goes drinking with old high school buddies Dillon and Rapaport, he wallows in indecision. He has just weathered a lonely Christmas playing piano at the Tiki Lounge in New York.

Should he ditch the poorly paying artistic route, he wonders, and get a real job? And how much does he love the girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) from New York who's coming to rejoin him?

One night, he meets Thurman (in this movie, the ultimate Beautiful Girl), who's passing through to visit her cousin. While Thurman's radiance sends Hutton (and all his friends) spinning, he's also unexpectedly wowed by Natalie Portman, a bright, lonely 13-year-old who just moved in next door to his Dad.

In Knight's Ridge, relationship problems are piled higher than the snow. Dillon (a former stud at high school, now a snow-shoveler) is torn between current squeeze Mira Sorvino and old flame Lauren Holly, who's married but wants an extramarital good time. Rapaport, an impulsive being with a near-psychotic obsession with magazine models, is trying to get back together with waitress Martha Plimpton. Meanwhile friends from both sides of the gender divide—mainly O'Donnell and Max Perlich—provide memorable comic relief.

There's some rather conventional, underlying wisdom about gender politics at play here: Men are pigs, women are angry about it; some women are pigs, some men are nice; yadda, yadda, yadda. But "Beautiful Girls" makes enmity between the sexes (including O'Donnell's male-bashing monologues and a brutal bar fight between Dillon and Holly's jilted husband) a provocatively funny affair.

When Rapaport proudly displays the engagement ring he has bought for Plimpton, the piece's brown diamond (euphemistically called "champagne"-colored) causes his friend Dillon to retort, "You've been eating retarded sandwiches again."

"Take the [expletive] ring," Rapaport yells later at Plimpton after she has refused his proposal in front of her cafe customers.

"That's romantic!" shouts Plimpton.

Portman, who made such a precocious splash in "The Professional," reprises her fledgling sassiness in cuter form. As a self-described "old soul" who connects spiritually with Hutton (they're both existential searchers), she's the movie's most poignant and witty presence. When she and Hutton talk jokingly about the consequences of a physical affair, Portman observes, "You'll go to the penitentiary, I'll be the laughingstock of the Brownies."

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (R) — Contains mild sexual situations, a violent fight and considerable profanity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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