Tough times with troubled teens in a Southeast London housing project lay the foundation for "Beautiful Thing," which gradually evolves into a story of two young boys who reluctantly embrace their homosexual tendencies.
Though much of the film is ensemble in nature, the central characters are a pair of teenagers who live next door to each other in upstairs apartments. Both are enduring difficult lives, and both are quite unhappy.
Jamie (Glen Berry), who probably suspects early on that he is gay, is the object of ridicule by his peers, and he regularly skips school. His mother (Linda Henry, who fairly steals the show with a tough-but-warm performance) runs a nearby pub, and she and Jamie spend much of the film venting their frustrations on each other.
Meanwhile, Ste (Scott Neal) is more popular in school, and he's confused about his attraction to Jamie. Ste is physically abused regularly by his father and older brother, and eventually he is invited by Jamie's mother to move in with them.
They are quite tentative about each other until two-thirds into the film, when they consummate their relationship. At this point, the focus shifts to gay themes, as the boys realize they must come to terms with their own feelings as well as the prejudices of those around them. Initially, Ste turns and runs, but eventually he comes around, and the film opts for a fairy-tale ending that seems to belie almost everything that has gone before.
Actually, before suggesting that being openly gay is a solution to all problems, the film takes a fairly rooted look at English working-class life in general, and how hard it is on teens in particular. But any grounded sense of reality is thrown out the window by the end.
Other characters in the film, such as Leah (Tameka Empson), a young woman with an obsession for . . . of all things . . . the late singer Cass Elliot ("Mama" Cass, of the Mamas and the Papas), and Jamie's mother (Linda Henry), who has taken up with a younger man in a go-nowhere relationship, are quite well developed during the first half of the film. But when it gives way to the gay themes, they are shoved aside and barely register in the end.
The thick working-class accents don't help with understanding the intentions here. Some of the dialogue is unintelligible, and, ultimately, the film crumbles in a muddle of mixed messages.
The performances are mostly quite good, but the script definitely needs work.
"Beautiful Thing" is rated R for violence, sex, brief partial nudity, profanity, vulgarity and drugs.