Review by Sean Boelman
The directorial debut of British actress-turned-filmmaker Billie Piper (Doctor Who), Rare Beasts is an ambitiously indie romantic comedy with a lot on its mind. Still, even though the effort from everyone involved is evident, the movie is a bit too rough around the edges for it to break the ground on which it is standing.
The film follows a career-driven single mother as she starts a relationship with a traditionalist man, challenging both of their philosophies and perspectives on the world. Piper does a very good job of taking the common tropes of the romantic comedy genre and turning them on their head, creating a tongue-in-cheek commentary on a chronically unrealistic genre.
However, in trying so hard to defy the formula of the genre in which she is working, Piper loses track of what is needed to make her movie feel believable in the first place. The relationship between the two leads is not particularly compelling or believable, and this suspension of disbelief that is required of the viewer is overwhelmingly distracting.
Additionally, the film’s humor never lands as solidly as one would hope. While there are some very charming moments, and even some that will elicit a brief chuckle, much of the movie’s attempts at humor simply come off as angry and aggressive. The quips, while frequent, are often so mean-spirited that they are hard to enjoy.
That said, the film does offer some interesting commentary on modern relationships. There are some very thought-provoking questions that the movie poses, and Piper ultimately allows the viewer to come to their own decision regarding them. Of particular interest is the film’s evaluation of abuse within relationships.
Piper gives a committed and strong performance in her role, but that can be expected given the fact that she wrote the material herself. She is very charming in her role, bringing a lot of humanity to a character that otherwise would have been annoying. The standout in the supporting cast is Leo Bill, who is arguably the funniest part of the movie. David Thewlis and Lily James also have supporting roles, but feel largely wasted.
On a technical level, Piper doesn’t take the standard romantic comedy approach, instead shooting the film in a much more ambitious, gritty style. For the most part, this works well given that the movie is meant to have a much darker edge to it than the average film of the genre, but the roughness of the editing and cinematography are still sometimes off-putting.
There are a lot of things working in the favor of Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, and while it has some great moments, it just doesn’t connect. Still, Piper is obviously very talented both behind and in front of the camera, so it will be exciting to see what she does next.
Rare Beasts was set to screen at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.