Billie Piper was one of the stars of my childhood. Watching her fly across the stars as Rose Tyler in Doctor Who makes up countless memories I will cherish forever. So, when I heard she was taking up directing and that she would star alongside another favourite of mine in David Thewlis, it’s safe to say I was excited. Yet now I must write about it, and I almost wish I didn’t have to because regretfully, it misses the mark.
Piper’s directorial debut comes in the form of an “anti-romcom” entitled “Rare Beasts”. It follows single working mother Mandy (Piper) and traditionalist Pete (Leo Bill), two opposites who strangely attract and begin a rollercoaster romance. We greet them first in an off-kilter, extremely awkward first date from hell, and things only get weirder and more intense from there. This opening scene itself is quite funny. It’s fast-paced and feels almost showy and fun with its POV shots and snappy dialogue, very Guy Richie like. The issues arise when the flashy stuff doesn’t stop and instead keeps going for 90 minutes.
The first 20 minutes of Rare Beasts ends up playing like a bunch of experimental footage spliced together. There are a lot of flashy tracking shots and a delirious sound mix, but not one bit of it means anything or truly impresses. As ideas, these techniques are brilliant, and the execution too is top-notch, but all the camera tricks back to back become erratic, and they don’t do anything for Mandy but distract us from her. Taking this style of filmmaking into such a genre as the romantic comedy, inverted though it may be, is not something I think can ever work. Characters in any romance need to ground the narrative and make it somewhat relatable, but Rare Beasts just gets lost overindulging itself, ultimately becoming impossible to connect to.
Restraint is what was desperately needed. Were some applied, the genuinely intriguing themes Piper’s script touches upon would have shined far brighter. Her story tells of the complexities of modern romance and the clashes of traditional beliefs with their contemporary counterparts; it makes for interesting discussion before falling apart in the director’s chair. The ending suffers from this most of all. Piper constructs a call to arms in her finale, a powerful reminder of the importance of looking out for oneself; however, she approaches it like David Lynch, which dissolves the whole scene into a head-scratcher. This speaks to why the direction fails the script so much because it ruins the film’s tone.
As individual pieces, there are many scenes in Rare Beasts that are phenomenal, but when they are combined, there is a complete tonal mismatch. Throughout the multitude of screaming matches and random copious amounts of drugs, the only thing that remains consistent is the inconsistency which is such a shame. It’s almost as if Piper was so ready to show off all she could do that she felt she had to do it all at once, forgetting the adage that sometimes less is more.
Thankfully, I do have some praise to hand out. Thewlis shines as Mandy’s drunken dead-beat dad, and alongside Kerry Fox, who plays his wife, he manages to deliver the film’s only touching and cathartic moment. Bill also salvages what he can. His neurotic Pete provides most of the laughs, and it makes for a strong display.
Overall, Rare Beasts is a film lost in trying to do too much. Billie Piper has all the right ideas; she only needs to find a better way of bringing them to life on screen.
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