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A Beautiful Life (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)


A Beautiful Life


A BEAUTIFUL LIFE (2009)

Starring Angela Sarafyan, Jesse Garcia, Bai Ling, Dana Delany, Debi Mazar, Jonathan LaPaglia, Walter Perez, Enrique Castillo, Rena Owen, Bree Elise, Meltem Cumbul, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Deidra Edwards and Saadet Aksoy.

Screenplay by Wendy Hammond and Deborah Calla.

Directed by Alejandro Chomski.

Distributed by New Films International.  81 minutes.  Not Rated.

Homelessness is a difficult subject to handle in films.  Just earlier this year, the earnest-but-flawed The Soloist failed to really shed much light on this difficult subject and Gardens of the Night‘s life-on-the-streets context was overshadowed by the film’s much more disturbing scenes of childhood sexual abuse.

A Beautiful Life does a better (though not great) job of illuminating this touchy subject, perhaps simply because A Beautiful Life plays it a little more safely.  These essentially homeless characters (they squat in a filthy warehouse) do not have to deal with mental illness (though one of them, at least, certainly has a bit of mental damage).  The sexual abuse component does not come until late in the film and even leads to a somewhat cathartic showdown with the abuser.  Other important aspects of homelessness like drugs and the sex trade are only touched upon.

However, these hardships are only contributing factors in this couple’s lives.  Mostly, however, their destitution is more simply a matter of economics.

It is a story of two very different people with very little in common who learn to love and rely upon each other because of a mutual need for shelter and companionship.

She is Maggie (Angela Sarafyan), a seventeen-year-old runaway who arrives on a bus to Los Angeles without a place to stay or a plan to survive.

He is David (Jesse Garcia), an illegal immigrant who is working washing dishes in a local strip club.  (He is only supposed to be a couple of years older than Maggie, but honestly he looks at the very least ten years older than her.)

They meet when Maggie befriends Esther (Bai Ling), the manager of the strip club where David works.  Esther takes pity on the girl even though she is too young to give Maggie a job.  Esther convinces David to let Maggie crash in his squat overnight and she never moves out.  At first they get on each other’s nerves, but eventually they come to rely upon each other.

They even love each other, however his excessive quietness and need for privacy and a peculiar sexual kink of hers – which obviously has deeper psychological meaning – keep getting in the way.  Then he loses his job due to an immigration raid and they need each other for food and survival as well as love and companionship.

A Beautiful Life is the first leading performance by Sarafyan – who has appeared in several movies or TV shows, but is still probably best known as the “Umbrella Girl” in a memorable Cingular commercial a few years ago.  She is very effective as Maggie – though perhaps just a hair too beautiful and healthy looking to be a destitute, starving squatter.

Garcia looks the part more, but his character is much more inscrutable and harder to get a handle on.  Therefore he is much harder for an audience to work up too much sympathy for, or even simply care about as much as his co-star.

There are a few known actors on hand to prop up the star-power of the mostly unknown cast, but they have little to add to the proceedings.  Bai Ling and Debbie Mazar (as a concerned librarian trying to help Maggie find a job) are just fine but have to struggle against essentially underwritten roles.  Jonathan LaPaglia and Dana Delany are given even more one-dimensional parts as Maggie’s monstrous father and her in-denial mother.

A Beautiful Life mostly works due to an interesting subject matter and a fine, nuanced lead performance by Sarafyan, but it could have been even better.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 30, 2009.


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