Eternal Beauty, 2019.
Directed by Craig Roberts.
Starring Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Billie Piper, Alice Lowe, Penelope Wilton, Robert Pugh, and Morfydd Clark.
After Jane (Sally Hawkins) falls into a state of despair over her schizophrenia, she encounters new sources of love and life with surprising results.
Still in his twenties, actor-turned-filmmaker Craig Roberts (perhaps still best known for his performance in Richard Ayoade’s Submarine) is already on his sophomore feature; a confident dark comedy that oozes style and potential, in spite of its clear flaws.
Eternal Beauty tells the story of Jane, a paranoid schizophrenic, prone to unpredictable behaviour that alienates those around her, most of whom seem relatively apathetic towards her. Jane was first diagnosed at a younger age, having struggled to cope with being jilted at the altar, and has since suffered through her fair share of traumatic therapy, which only seems to have made matters worse.
Jane is played with sheer brilliance by the always terrific Sally Hawkins, who delivers a fully committed performance, perfectly balancing her dry comedic timing with the undoubtedly tragic state of her character. Supporting cast members David Thewlis, Billie Piper, Alice Lowe and Penelope Wilton all deserve credit for their strong contributions also, but this film lives and dies on the shoulders of Hawkins, who is perhaps the only performer who could’ve played this part to the tone Roberts clearly wanted. She plays Jane as both likeable yet rude; personable yet alienating, and is always fully respectful of her illness. It’s stellar work.
Roberts’ style is clearly intended to mirror Jane’s erratic state of mind, and for much of the first act, it really works. We see the world from her own bewildered perspective, and the filmmaker’s creative choices are simple yet often inspired. But as the story unfolds and begins to focus further on Jane’s connection with Mike (Thewlis), it retreats back into more familiar territory and begins to lose sight of itself; the style is then unable to lift the film’s increasingly fading narrative. At times, Roberts’ attempts come across misjudged, particularly when it comes to Jane’s hallucinations.
Eternal Beauty is shot with real passion and creative flair, and for the most part, has a delicate balance of humour and heart, that can have you laughing one minute and weeping the next. Sadly, it’ll also make you wince at times with its well-intended but often misjudged attempts to observe Jane’s illness. Ultimately, Roberts never seems to fully settle on his tone.
The film is charming, superbly acted, beautifully visual and stylish, but it’s all pretty unoriginal and often completely off-key. Roberts seems more focused on showcasing his style than fully engaging with his subject and, in the end, it all comes across a little self-important, and most audiences will likely find it notably difficult to get through.
Admittedly, what Roberts is trying to do here is exceptionally difficult. He’s attempting to portray mental illness through the means of a dark, almost surrealistic comedy. That’s not exactly easy to do, and he doesn’t really succeed, but you can’t help but admire his valiant attempt to try something so bold. It’s a film that could best be described as a noble failure.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★