Previously available as a Best Buy Exclusive, the Blu-ray for Ted Demme’s post-coming of age story finally gets a wide release, to the joy of fans who instantly connected with it back during Miramax Films’ heyday. While Echo Bridge Home Entertainment’s handling of the video presentation falls short in some notable ways, it’s still an improvement on the original, non-anamorphic DVD that remained the only option for over 12 years.
Distributed By: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Run Time: 1 Hr. 52 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/26/2013
There comes a time in every man’s life when he must grow the [bleep] up. That’s the challenge facing New York City piano bar player Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) when he returns to his sleepy Massachusetts hometown for his high school reunion.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
At first, though, it doesn’t seem like he’s the one with the problem. Most of his old friends, who have never left town, haven’t changed a bit – and not in a good way.
Tommy “The Birdman” (Matt Dillon) isn’t over his (now married) high school sweetheart Darian (Lauren Holly). It’d be fine if he were single, but he’s slowly destroying his relationship with his longsuffering girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino).
Paul (Michael Rapaport) is also having girl problems. After seven years of dating Jan (Martha Plimpton), she gave him the marriage ultimatum, at which he balked, to which she responded by breaking up with him. Though he says he wants to get married someday, it seems he’d rather stare at the supermodel pictures plastered on his bedroom wall, or harass Jan – who’s started seeing someone else – with immature pranks.
The only guy who doesn’t seem afflicted with Peter Pan Syndrome is Michael (Noah Emmerich), who’s already been married several years, has two kids, and seems to love being a father and husband. Seeing Michael so grown up is a bit of a shock to Willie though, and it turns out he’s dealing with his own “next step” conundrum with his girlfriend Tracy (Annabeth Gish). While she’s a wonderful woman with a great career, there’s a part of Willie that’s just plain scared about moving forward with her. The extent and nature of his underlying reticence becomes more clear when he unexpectedly hits it off with 13-year old neighbor girl Marty (Natalie Portman), who’s mature beyond her years, but still so untarnished that it makes Willie long for his bygone youth. He’d be crazy to think he could have a romantic relationship with the girl, but meeting her has made it clear he has some serious soul searching to do.
Directed by the late Ted Demme, Beautiful Girls deftly captures – with good doses of humor and some insightful dialogue – the existential crisis most males seem to face about adulthood. Forced to choose between it and adolescence, many would choose the latter, but not without eventually realizing (often painfully) it’s an unsustainable existence. With Hutton putting in a sympathetic turn as Willie, the Peter Pan Syndrome gets a rather likable representative; fortunately the character doesn’t squander that good will, eventually rising to the occasions that life sets before him.
Not that the audience can’t empathize with his dilemma – it’s made surprisingly understandable by the character of Marty. She’s an awesome kid who will grow up to be an awesome adult, and despite the Lolita-esque scenario, she’s neither written nor performed as some creepy, midlife crisis fantasy object. Played to perfection by a teenage Natalie Portman (who knows a thing or two about being awesome both as a kid and as an adult), the strength of her portrayal persuades the audience Willie and Marty could really be meant for each other. When Willie ultimately becomes the voice of reason, the adult that Marty really needs him to be, it’s honestly the most touching and bittersweet scene in the film.
Similar lessons eventually follow for Willie’s more hapless friends, but those moments come off as perfunctory by comparison. However, the supporting cast does such a good job with the characters and their respective issues that the largely foregone conclusions still feel hugely satisfying, resonating deepest with those who have been there. Of course some viewers won’t connect with the material in the same way, but the strong cast and a great script containing more than a few spot-on observations about human nature should appeal to just about all demographics.
Originally released on DVD by Miramax Films, Beautiful Girls languished in standard definition, non-anamorphic hell for over 12 years. Then in 2011, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment put out a DVD properly formatted for widescreen displays, whose master no doubt provides the basis for this Blu-ray version.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
Framed at 1.78:1 (a slight modification from the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1), the 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer features strong black levels and a solid range of contrast, with only a few instances where the shadows look a bit too opened up. Color is nicely saturated, though the palette is on the drab side given the film’s wintry setting. Flesh tones can look a touch pink at times too, but on occasion that’s a byproduct of the movie’s chilly environment. Detail is okay, though there are signs of the twin horrors of grain reduction and edge enhancement, giving the picture a hard, overly processed look. Spots of dirt and dust pop up here and there as well, but for many that will prove less of a distraction compared to the processing problems. Overall it makes for an acceptable – if less than ideal – transfer.
Dialogue in the English language 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp, detailed, and intelligible. Surround activity is practically non-existent, as is LFE, but it’s a more than serviceable track for this dialogue-driven drama.
Audio Rating: 3/5
The bonus material consists entirely of archival promotional materials.
Special Features Rating: 1/5
Behind the Curtain (27:00, SD): Comedian Jon Stewart figures heavily in this promotional piece, making it a little more entertaining than the usual electronic press kit. Peppered between interviews with the cast, during which Stewart alternates between oaf and creepy stalker, are scenes from the shoot, clips of Chris Isaak and Afghan Whigs music videos, and excerpts from the film.
What is True Beauty (3:24, SD): Shot during the film’s premiere, the cast and other celebrities in attendance provide thoughts about what makes a woman beautiful.
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment delivers a long overdue Blu-ray release for one of the ‘90s best indie dramas, directed by the late Ted Demme and featuring Natalie Portman in only her third movie role. The special features are limited to just a couple archival items, but given the film’s age and profile, that’s more than most would have expected. While the transfer has some classic “reduce and enhance” processing issues, it’s still an improvement considering how long fans have gone without the title in high definition, period. It’s not a ringing endorsement, but an endorsement just the same, especially considering the release’s going sub-$6 street price.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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