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MOVIES: Rare Beasts (LFF 2019) - Review

Billie Piper’s directorial debut is perfect for fans of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, and coming in at a tight ninety-one minutes, Rare Beasts focuses on a career driven single mother named Mandy who falls in love with a religious, nationalist Pete. Billed as an anti rom-com for the modern age, the film takes delight in ripping apart the tropes of the rom-com genre as we follow Mandy and her child Larch for a vast majority of the film, making sure that all three lead characters have enough flaws to provide plenty of drama to keep the film going, and never going out of its way in search of an all-too common happy ever after.

Rather than opt for a traditional love story Piper frames both the film and Mandy as being extremely cynical, and although Pete is unlikable Mandy begins to develop an attraction to him due to his certain eccentric authentic-ism. Both characters don’t get off to the best of starts and it keeps getting worse as the film progresses, made even more complicated by Larch’s stubbornness – for example, he demands a certain kind of balloon from a balloon maker that has already been sold and won’t accept an alternative, and when the trio go to a wedding with Pete’s relatives, they have to go back to the home because Larch refuses to leave with his Ipad. If you’re looking for sympathetic characters to like then look elsewhere, because they are few and far between in Rare Beasts.

Lily James has a short but sweet cameo as Cressida and positioned against Mandy’s destructive relationship it’s interesting to see how her own character’s wedding compares, framed as something that Mandy is instantly envious of. Her family quarrels at home give the story plenty of material to keep it afloat, and in addition to Fleabag, there are also comparisons that can be drawn to Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead which opts for a similar tone and was aired at last year’s festival. Like Happy New Year, Colin Burstead it’s hard to imagine Rare Beasts being a crowd pleaser, but it’s something that goes out of its way to remind you that it’s not, there are even short detours where the film almost adopts a Lynchian take to the more fantastical segments in the latter stages of the drama, and it’s easy to see how this might be influenced by the works of Paul Thomas Anderson especially in a single shot that is instantly reminiscent of his most recent film, Phantom Thread, but there are also echoes of Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia.

Rare Beasts is at its best when it leans into the eccentric characters and embraces its off-kilter story. At times it feels a tad too self-indulgent, and also inconsistent, there are moments where the film drags and things don’t quite click together. But when Rare Beasts does click, keeping things at its most truthful and honest, it shows enough promise to keep the audience interested, attacking common ideas of a typical relationship in a way that's designed to feel incredibly raw and uncomfortable.

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