This feature film was scheduled to screen at South by Southwest (SXSW). Screen Zealots will continue some of our planned coverage of SXSW, the annual film festival in Austin, Texas that was cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The witty, disjointed black comedy “Rare Beasts” is a lot more ambitious than it is enjoyable. This stylishly directed anti-romcom (from talented screenwriter / director / actor Billie Piper) has a distinctive voice, but is mostly an undercooked stew of too-diverse themes that never quite connect in a meaningful way.
Mandy (Piper) is a career-driven single mother and nihilist. She’s the picture of a modern woman in crisis. Struggling with raising her demanding and out of control son, stressing over her parents’ separation, and writing about long-lost and yearned-for loves, Mandy meets a troubled man named Pete (Leo Bill), who’s not at all what anyone would call their “dream guy.” Together, the oddball pair start a relationship that rates high on the “ick factor” scale.
Flawed characters are charming to a point, but Mandy isn’t very sympathetic. It’s difficult to root for her to find happiness. Even worse is that the film is overindulgent in almost every way possible. There are a few surreal scenes that could be interesting on their own, but don’t come together as a whole here. The project could also benefit from a more structured plot and script.
In the end, “Rare Beasts” tries to be a thesis of edgy feminist humor, but mostly comes off as being weird solely for the sake of being weird. It’s crowded with muddled ideas and too-obvious absurdity, a lackluster effort that’s drowned by overly theatrical moments.
Despite all of its flaws, it would be shortsighted to ignore the filmmaking force behind the pen and the lens. I didn’t like this film, and the offbeat, ribald humor wasn’t for me, but I can’t wait to see what Piper does next. Let’s just hope it’s a bit more coordinated next time.