The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/Digital] - RARE BEASTS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/Digital] - RARE BEASTS

rare beasts review
A single mother falls for a religiously devout misogynist.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Billie Piper

Starring: Billie Piper, Leo Bill, David Thewlis, Kerry Fox, Lily James

rare beasts poster

Following Karen Gillan's The Party's Just Beginning, Billie Piper's feature debut as writer/director, Rare Beasts, is the second movie in as many years to be helmed by a former Doctor Who companion. Both movies are thematic cousins, featuring millennial protagonists played by their directors negotiating the tumult of modern life and romance. But where Gillan seemed to arrive fully formed as a mature filmmaker with a specific vision, Piper's debut is an unfocussed mess that leaves the viewer confused as to just what story she's trying to tell here.

rare beasts review

Piper plays Mandy, single mother to Larch (Toby Woolf), a young boy with behavioural issues (which are played too often for cheap laughs). She lives at home with her mother (Kerry Fox) and occasionally her wastrel father (David Thewlis), who seems determined to rekindle his estranged relationship with Mandy's mother. Mandy has recently begun dating her coworker Pete (Leo Bill), a religiously devout misogynist broken from the Jordan Peterson mould.

Scurrying from one haphazard vignette to the next, Rare Beasts details the tumultuous relationship between Mandy and Pete, with occasional diversions to explore the similar dynamic between Mandy's parents. Paul Thomas Anderson would appear to be the primary influence on Piper, who seems intent on aping the manic approach and visual style of Punch Drunk Love, right down to the blue suit sported by Pete. The relationship between Mandy and Pete has something of Phantom Thread about it, but unlike the heroine of that film, who gave as good as she got, Mandy just takes Pete's abuse, which is wrapped up in cod-philosophy of the sort spouted by conservative YouTube hosts.

rare beasts review

When the film begins, Mandy and Pete have just begun seeing one another, which leaves us musing over how they ever got together in the first place. Pete is as unattractive an individual as your imagination could conjure, so what Mandy sees in him is anyone's guess. Piper seems so desperate to critique men like Pete that she's fashioned him into a one-dimensional caricature. He's nothing more than a vessel for misogynistic viewpoints, making it difficult to take him, or the film, seriously. Similarly, Mandy's father has no interior life beyond being a stand-in for deadbeat Dads who can't handle responsibility, while her Mum is conversely an angelic figure. The scenes in Mandy's workplace, some sort of trendy media outlet, feature men behaving in a manner that would have them suspended on the spot today, as though the office exists in 1973. In the world of Rare Beasts, men are misogynistic monsters and women are seraphic victims who put up with them – there's no nuance, no shades of grey to be found here.

Visually, Rare Beasts is exactly the sort of movie you might expect from a first time director, all quick cuts and indulgent fantasy sequences. There's a dance sequence at a  wedding that feels like it belongs at the end of an entirely different movie, rather than popping up at the halfway point here. A dream sequence involving Mandy and her teenage self tapdancing on a stage in an attempt to catch her squabbling parents' attention has "First year of film school" written all over it. Aside from a late moment of quasi-reconciliation between Mandy's parents, none of the scenes are given enough time to breath. Piper would probably say this is intentional, meant to represent the exhausting pace of modern life, but it doesn't help us get to know her thinly drawn characters.

rare beasts review

Piper is aided greatly by the experience of Fox and Thewlis, while Bill (who you might remember from his hilarious turn as the washing machine obsessive from In Fabric) is the standout, managing to make the one-note Pete engaging. The very fact that her film's ostensible villain is the only element that makes it worth watching speaks volumes about Piper's struggle to communicate her message about gender relations. If Piper is to continue behind the camera she may need to avail of the services of an established writer who can fashion her ideas into a coherent and rounded narrative.

Rare Beasts is in UK cinemas and on UK/ROI Digital platforms from May 21st.

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