Even the most celebrated films to delve into the realm of schizophrenia have the peculiar habit of taking the most literal of approaches. So often fully formed people appear and make it near impossible for audiences to differentiate the delusion from reality. Generally, this difficulty is intentional and often used to significant effect to position a twist in a story. What makes certain depictions so peculiar, however, is that the hallucinational effects of schizophrenia are known to be primarily those that appeal to the sufferers hearing as opposed to their sight. I say this to be clear about all the things that I love about Craig Roberts’ second feature film “Eternal Beauty”.
Not only does this film serve as a more plausible interpretation of the struggles of mental disorder, it also plays like a breath of fresh air in a genre riddled with fierce melodrama or otherwise overly quirky misfires. Eternal Beauty finds the sweet spot right in between and is genuinely one of the funniest movies of the year while still managing to keep intact its emotional core.
The story is that of Jane (Sally Hawkins), a lonely woman who succumbed to schizophrenia after being left on the alter 20 years before we meet her. And while it is her lost love that caused her ailment, it is the actions of her sadistic and manipulative mother which have entrenched Jane into her psychosis. We learn of Vivian’s (Penelope Wilton) manipulative ways through a series of flashbacks depicting her as a mother demanding of beauty and success, primarily through the avenue of teenager’s beauty pageants. Despite Jane’s striking beauty as a youth, she was always far too shy to speak in front of the judges, leading Viviane to displace her for her younger sister Nicola (Billie Piper) who instantly adored the limelight.
These cruel maternal actions of the past twist Jane’s reality in the present. She continually receives phone calls from a mysterious man she believes herself to be in love with. She then convinces herself her nephew is her son with this man and attempts to run away with the utterly bewildered child. Both of which are just two examples that fall into the vat of hilarity that is her generally eccentric nature. So strange is Jane’s life day to day that when we meet her she has bought her own Christmas presents intending to invoice her family the costs. With this said, no matter how funny things get, there’s an inescapable sombre undertone. One formed from the fact we know Jane can’t help herself, and that she didn’t deserve what happened to her. Everything changes when she reunites with an old childhood acquaintance, Mike (David Thewlis), who is just as quirky as she is and the two almost instantly fall for each other.
Despite the clichéd nature of their relationship Thewlis and Hawkins are irresistible together on screen and become delightful to watch. It isn’t to last however and when they sour the film reveals itself to be about the catharsis of three tormented sisters far more than it is just about Jane. The eldest sister Alice (Alice Lowe) never forgave her mother for sectioning Jane years earlier and has become estranged from her mother in exchange for becoming Janes main form of care. But when it becomes clear Vivian is dying the tortured trio must find their way back to one another and to the side of their ailing mother. There’s a fair argument to make in saying that Roberts loses his focus here and he does. The final act feels near entirely separate to the rest of the film, it may still emanate the same dramedy cocktail as the first half, but it lacks clear thoughts about what to do with its characters, with Nicola especially feeling redundant.
Uncomfortable as the transition into the films final act may be, there is one true and shining constant aspect throughout, and it is the gorgeous work of Sally Hawkins. Her work here is the funniest performance of the year. Full of quirky indifference and Janes own kind of razor-sharp rhetoric. Near every line, that isn’t designed to make you cry, will have you laughing. Thewlis is her brief but just as endearing and humorous counterpart, and as mentioned before together, they positively command the screen.
Eternal Beauty loses its way in the final act but remains a refreshing look at mental illness and an avenue for the fantastic work of Sally Hawkins.
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