The Movie Waffler New to DVD/Digital - ETERNAL BEAUTY | The Movie Waffler


eternal beauty review
Two decades on from a traumatic incident, a woman struggles with paranoid schizophrenia.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Craig Roberts

Starring: Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Alice Lowe, Billie Piper, Penelope Wilton, Morfydd Clark

eternal beauty poster

Conveying mental illness is a minefield that has claimed many filmmakers over the decades. Some have portrayed it through the lens of horror, ala Polanski's Repulsion and its many clones, while others have opted for comedy. Either way, the results are rarely nuanced, and mentally ill protagonists are usually designed for the audience to pity at best, fear at worst. I'm not sure what the best way to portray mental illness really is in the cinematic medium, or if cinema is even the most suitable medium for such a study. But I do know that the "it's all very twee, oh wait, now it's all very dark" approach of actor turned director Craig Roberts' second turn behind the camera, Eternal Beauty, didn't work for me.

eternal beauty review

The particular mental illness here is paranoid schizophrenia. It's triggered in our heroine Jane (Morfydd Clark) when she is stood up at the altar as a young woman. Two decades later, in what appears to be 1980s England, Jane (now played by Sally Hawkins) has become a recluse thanks to her condition. Aside from her sister Alice (Alice Lowe), her family has all but given up on her. When she meets Mike (David Thewlis), a fellow oddball who frequents the same clinic as herself, things seem to take a positive turn for Jane, who comes out of her shell and seems happy for the first time in two decades. But in Jane's world, tragedy is never too far away.

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Like its protagonist, Eternal Beauty is somewhat schizophrenic itself, veering wildly between tones. When things are going well for Jane, the movie resembles an Amelie knockoff, all primary colour schemes and goofy antics. When things are bad, it veers into Requiem for a Dream territory, with Jane munching on pills as the decor of her flat turns grey and mouldy. This is clearly intentional on Roberts' part, but both extremes are too cartoonish for us to invest in Jane's plight. When it's aping Amelie, the film is insufferably twee, to a degree that makes Wes Anderson look like Wes Craven. When it goes all Requiem for a Dream, it becomes cheaply cruel, enacting a series of mental torments on its brittle protagonist.

eternal beauty review

The complaint of "style over substance" is usually levelled by people who look down their noses at cinema and its unique tools. You can certainly tell a sensitive story using cinematic techniques, but Roberts employs an arsenal of stylistic ticks - all zooms, whooshing dollies and changing light patterns - in a manner that just comes off as juvenile and distracting. The movie's confusing POV makes it difficult to figure out if Jane's family really are monsters or whether that's just how she perceives them. One character disappears so ambiguously that we're left unsure if they were ever real or just a figment of Jane's mind.

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Jane never really resembles anything more than a caricature. In the flashbacks to her youth, Clark does a better job of defining the character than Hawkins, who too easily falls back on the fragile weirdo persona she's become too readily associated with over the course of her career.

eternal beauty review

I'm not sure what Roberts wants us to take away from Eternal Beauty. That mental illness can be horrendous? That the mentally ill can also enjoy themselves? These are hardly original notions, and no amount of stylistic strokes can disguise the fact that Eternal Beauty has little to add to the cinematic conversation around mental illness.

Eternal Beauty is on UK DVD/VOD/Digital now.

2020 movie reviews