Some Kind of Beautiful Directed by Tom Vaughan; written by Matthew Newman; with Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Jessica Alba, Malcolm McDowell, Ben McKenzie, Ivan Sergei, Marlee Matlin, Juliet Mills
A beleaguered philosophy professor is the hero of Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” now showing in Israel. Joining him in the ranks of tortured film academics is Richard Hague, a Cambridge professor of Romantic poetry and Lord Byron aficionado, played by Pierce Brosnan in Scottish director Tom Vaughan’s “Some Kind of Beautiful.” Vaughan, Brosnan (who also produced) and screenwriter Matthew Newman were trying to make a clever romantic comedy focused not on a confused young man but rather on a confused 60-something man. The concept was promising, but the intended sophistication was ultimately diluted with so much vulgarity, male chauvinism, sexism, conservatism and a completely untenable plot that nothing clever remains; “Some Kind of Beautiful” collapses into a hodgepodge that is, above all, embarrassing.
Like the hero of “Irrational Man,” Richard is the philandering kind of professor; he is having an affair with his sexy student Kate (Jessica Alba). His troubles begin when he goes to a bar and meets Olivia (Salma Hayek), a no-less-sexy book editor married to a best-selling author, and hits on her just minutes before he is supposed to meet Kate. When the latter arrives, it turns out that Olivia is her sister; not only that, but Kate is pregnant and planning to leave England for Los Angeles. Richard, whom we are supposed to believe wants to give up his life of womanizing, decides to quit his prestigious Cambridge position and join Kate in America, where they get married and have a son.
The complications, however, are not over: Olivia leaves her own unfaithful husband and joins Kate’s little family, while Kate comes to realize that marrying a man in his sixties may not have been the best idea. She tells Richard that she is in love with Brian (Ben McKenzie), an American hunk of the silly kind, and invites him, too, to move in with them at their glitzy Los Angeles estate. Richard, who made a big professional mistake in leaving Cambridge, is unable to find an equally desirable academic job in America; he is thus forced to teach at a community college whose students couldn’t care less about studying, much less Romantic poetry. He also faces the constant threat of deportation, unless Kate – an off-puttingly shallow female character – will agree to continue pretending that their marriage is still valid.
A series of further entanglements, romantic and otherwise, make it increasingly likely that Richard will be forced to leave, but he has fallen in love with Olivia and wants to stay close to his son, who represents his shot at salvation (for some reason, the movie – which also features flashbacks – includes a frame narrative in which Richard tells his story to his young son; this only makes matters more confusing). “Some Kind of Beautiful” tries to offer a psychological explanation for Richard’s character and conduct by introducing his father, another uncouth, philandering literature professor, who treats his son with disdain. In the process, the movie missteps in a way that I might be thought petty for pointing out – but how can I not? Gordon, Richard’s father, is played by British actor Malcolm McDowell, forever memorable as the young rebel hero in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 movie “if” and even more so as the hero of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange.” Casting the 72-year-old McDowell as the father of 62-year-old Brosnan is odd, to say the least. The relationship between their characters, so important to the story, does not work, especially because McDowell has a much stronger presence than Brosnan and often seems the same age as his “son,” if not younger.
In other words, “Some Kind of Beautiful” is a messy, predictable movie that fails to offer an interesting or believable portrait of either its hero or the characters around him. This is especially true of the two women: despite ample opportunity to expose various body parts, Salma Hayek and Jessica Alba cannot turn Olivia and Kate into people we care about, just as we don’t really care about Richard, who arouses neither identification nor sympathy.
On some level, Vaughan’s movie tries to ask questions about romance and its relevance to contemporary life, a theme supposedly expressed when Richard lectures about Lord Byron, extolling the poet’s rebellious charms and urging his students to seize the day as though he were a sudden reincarnation of Robin Williams’ character in “Dead Poets Society.” But the handling of this idea is shallow and seems as contrived as other components of the movie. Ultimately, in addition to its sexism, male chauvinism and fondness for vulgar dialogue, “Some Kind Of Beautiful” pretends to be bold, but really offers the most conservative version of family values, a theme that cinema has refused to benefit its viewers by abandoning.
“Some Kind of Beautiful” is a movie that is clearly in trouble: you can see it in the editing, in the sudden appearance of minor characters with no real role to play, even in the fact that the film’s original name, “How to Make Love Like an Englishman,” which had some kind of bland ambition, was replaced with an even blander option (I’d be delighted if someone could tell me what “Some Kind of Beautiful” has to do with this movie). Many good films are not commercially distributed in Israel; this one, which could happily have been skipped while it went straight to DVD, was. Go figure.