Rare Beasts, 2019.
Directed by Billie Piper.
Starring Billie Piper, Leo Bill, Kerry Fox, Toby Woolf, and David Thewlis.
Mandy (Billie Piper) is a career driven single mother with relationship needs. Pete (Leo Bill) is her victim of choice in this dark fable on contemporary dating.
Billie Piper has been many things over the course of a career which started in pop music. She held tenure in Doctor Who opposite Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant before branching off into other roles which saw her move into more serious drama. Rare Beasts represents yet another transformation as she takes on the mantle of writer director. What will surprise some and wrongfoot many others, is what a searing indictment of masculine stereotypes and corrosive femininity Rare Beasts turns out to be.
Mixing elements of kitchen sink realism from the days of John Osbourne, Rare Beasts is ostentatious in its ambition melding monologues with overt symbolism. Dynamic diatribes, cocaine confessionals and a brazen use of linguistics make this film instantly iconic. It is both stylishly flamboyant yet tonally inconsistent. Segueing from a legendary opening dinner date exchange, into a bitterly resentful family unit is jarring. Kerry Fox and David Thewlis feel like repulsive caricatures, cloaked in cancer and marital infidelity hunkered down round their kitchen table.
Rare Beasts addresses the inequality of gender stereotypes, by emasculating men and exploring the frailty in female strength. Sex, relationships and parental dynamics are all given equal screen time, while Billie Piper commands the screen. Elsewhere actor Toby Woolf, who plays her son Larch, gives this film its rough edges as he undermines the artifice and diminishes drama. His temper tantrums smack of melodrama and work in opposition to the central themes.
However, David Thewlis excels in his embodiment of paternal neglect as Vic. A hard drinking womaniser, who is not only self-absorbed but darkly deviant in ways even his dialogue never truly makes clear. In the case of this ensemble cast everything feels heightened. There is an air of unreality which exists within this film, that almost celebrates its own intelligence. A knowing nod and a fourth wall breaking wink to audiences, who may not be paying attention.
For that reason, Rare Beasts feels self-conscious and eager to please at times. The intentional use of theatrical staging and its abstract diversions into heavy handed symbolism, also undermine the invention. That being said, Billie Piper is a gifted writer with an obvious flair for the obscene, that is genuinely beneficial. Being able to laugh out loud at the potty mouthed profanities which pepper this film should never be underestimated. Something that not only suggests greater things to come, but also systematically takes an axe to rom-com rules and consigns them to a shallow grave.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★