While containing a likable lead with a few quirks, this odd tale about gardening, finding love, and a grumpy old man may just put you to sleep.
Characters & Storyline
Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) has the strangest of back stories. She was seemingly abandoned and kept warm by ducks until discovered by an old man. From then on, she was raised in a covenant. As an adult, she had her own home which was kept in a very particular order which would lead you to believe she has a form of OCD. Well, inside the house anyway. Her backyard is a complete mess.
Leading to one of the major plots of the film: Her fixing up her backyard for if she doesn’t, she’ll face eviction. Though, to make things worse, her curmudgeon next door neighbor, Alfie (Tom Wilkinson), decides to make her life a living hell. Especially when his cook decides to leave him and work for Bella.
Leaving one last piece to the plot: Her dreams and love life. Well, her dream is to write children’s books, but she has yet to find someone to publish her. So, to pay bills, she works at the library where she is late every day, nearly, and seems to rather want to read than work. However, working there does lead her to meet Billy (Jeremy Irvine), an inventor of sorts, who helps inspire a children’s book, alongside feelings of love.
You should doubt only a man who changes his story.
I only repeat myself in the vague hope that one day, somebody will actually hear me.
Take Out The Garden Part of the Storyline, And You Have a Sort of Cute Movie
Findlay still has the same charm which many discovered during her tenure on Downton Abbey and it is put to good use. However, her playing a quiet, borderline recluse, gets ruined a bit as we watch her deal with a untamed jungle of a backyard. For, outside of her race against time to fix up her backyard, we have this would-be children’s author who seemingly has very little interaction with children and seemingly wants to write solely because she loves to read.
But then she finds herself meeting this man Vernon (Andrew Scott), who has two daughters, who she employs just so he can get away from a mean employer, and then comes Billy. Someone who is wealthy enough that he can just study and invent things. Of which, one of his inventions inspires a children’s book based off this bird he made named Luna.
To me, that would have been a plot that worked. However, instead, we get something very different.
Similar to Gilly Hopkins, in The Great Gilly Hopkins, there is a desire for someone, anyone, to take Alfie down a peg or for him to simply mellow out. However, even an hour into the movie, he is still someone who represents the idea that not all characters must become likeable or be redeemed. Well, at least until toward the end when it is written for him to get off his high horse. But this seemingly is only done to benefit the lead who, through some form of what could be considered perseverance, melts his icy heart and, in one of her darkest moments, he decides to open up to her. Making the insufferable character into someone who is simply suffering from loneliness and, over the years, has become callous. A last minute reprieve for a character you wanted to see get “accident” at least whacked with a branch.
It Leaves You Rather Indifferent About Everything
Perhaps the main issue the film has is that while Bella is likable, as is Billy and Vernon to a point, you aren’t really given much reason to care about them. Bella is some eccentric who fits the usual definition of quirky, but only cause she is a little weird. A type of weird which doesn’t draw you in but is like that weird kid in high school you noticed but didn’t necessarily want to bring into your circle.
Then with Vernon, while you are happy he kind of gets away from Alfie, from there you are left what will happen now? Is he to be Bella’s love interest? Perhaps part of a love triangle when Billy is introduced? Nope, he is just kind of around, usually cooking, or being a dad.
Moving to Billy, he is an oddball, but there seems to be no real significant development there. Why care about him? Because he is an Abercrombie model looking guy who is into books and engineering? I mean, I don’t know what I was truly expecting out of this movie but what little hopes I had were squashed repeatedly.
Overall: Mixed (Divisive)
I found it difficult at times to not fall asleep while watching this movie. Mostly because none of the characters really have some type of hook to make and keep you interested. They are either dull but made to be likable, or such a nasty and curmudgeon type of character you faintly see This Beautiful Fantastic through just to see their comeuppance.
Yet, I find myself labeling this as Mixed. If only because, I just feel my dislike of this movie is because its characters are more hushed and maybe because, when I think quirky, I prefer the Amélie types over Bella who is much more introverted. Plus, I need stronger romances compared to Bella and Billy’s and when it comes to Alfie, I need the transition from butt wipe to complicated to not come when it is convenient for the movie but a natural progression of some kind. So while I’m left a bit indifferent about this movie, with the acknowledgment it is probably more so due to my taste than the film itself, hence the mixed label.