Harris Doran’s new drama, Beauty Mark, is about 24-year old Angie (Auden Thornton), trying to survive after being sexually assaulted as a young child by her good for nothing mom’s (at-the-time) significant other, Bruce (Jeff Kober). Now living in near poverty with a young son, Trey (Jameson Fowler), she struggles, barely making it paycheck to paycheck as her mom, Ruth Ann (Catherine Curtin), retreats from the real world by sleeping all day.
If only good intentions and important messages automatically translated into a stellar viewing experience, writer/ director Doran’s feature-length debut would be a perfect movie. As it stands, it is a good one, with some serious flaws. Given the subject matter, I feel it is best to discuss the issues first and move on from there. The most significant problem here is the Ruth Ann character. There is nothing wrong with Curtin’s performance, as she gives it her all and does what is required of her. Instead, the role as written is a caricature, sneering and mugging her way through what should have been dark scenes. Angie and her family are at a restaurant, having just been seated when Ruth Ann begins loudly hollering for service. Angie tells her to quit and give her “a night off”, to which Ruth Ann replies “you have the night off” and licks her lips awkwardly. It comes across as comedic, and given that the next scene involves Angie experiencing an intense PTSD episode, with a sense of danger and dread, the two tones mix poorly.
“… pulls the heartstrings …this makes the movie essential viewing…”
Some people are beyond hope or redemption, having resigned themselves to a spiral they don’t know how to break. These people are still relatable as human, so Ruth Ann being the movie’s second worst character isn’t an issue. In fact, that is an interesting idea to explore. But Ruth Ann’s characterization is alienating, instead of compelling. In the emotional climax, she and Angie are yelling at each other, as Ruth Ann goes on about how she protected Angie from worse fates, only to get so fed up she burns Angie by plunging her hand in the casserole just taken from the oven. The theatricality of the moment undermines the emotional integrity intended.
The other issue with the movie is the editing. On occasion, it seems as if the movie skipped past a few scenes. Angie arrives at the convenience store she works for and a smash cut happens to a customer trying to buy a pack of cigarettes and batteries while she is on the phone. The audience doesn’t see the start of the phone call, just an impatient man yelling while the worker (Angie) is on the phone. This gives the appearance that this guy is a needy snob who does not understand how businesses can sometimes get phone calls they have to take. It turns out to be a personal call, but that shouldn’t be information one fights to glean to make the scene flow correctly. Another odd scene sees a cop bust into their condemned home when the audience wasn’t even aware the main characters were still staying there. Things like this pull one out of the immersive quality all movies strive to have.
Those are some frustrating issues, but the positive qualities do eventually outweigh the negative. As a writer, it might have behooved Doran to get a fresh set of eyes, but he fares better in his role as a director. The odd editing aside, there is a sense of urgency in every scene and palpable tension when Angie experiences PTSD flashbacks. Outside of Ruth Ann, the characters are all engaging and empathetic. Angie’s reaction to each downturn in her fortune feels genuine and the attitude and attempt to fix things comes off as realistic. Karina Silva’s cinematography provides an excellent palette, no need to desaturate the colors due to the sensitive subject matter, so we are left with colorful visuals that allow the world to seem as if it is still turning for everyone but our main character.
Auden Thornton is brilliant as Angie. Every tear, every heartbreak, every frustration is internalized and she sells it all. Portraying the ever helpful Lorraine, Laura Bell Bundy is sweet and fun, and she brings a nice sense of levity and optimism to the role. Playing the reprehensible Bruce, Jeff Kober is unnervingly excellent. He is so mild mannered in his speech patterns that when the predatory side comes out, it’s disturbing and repulsive. Despite the issues with how her character is written, Curtin is game and does deliver what is required, and she and Thornton do work well together in the few quieter scenes they share.
Beauty Mark ends with text informing the viewers about the statistics of children, male and female, being abused each day. Given everything, the audience witnesses Angie go through, and how hard she is trying to move on, this makes the movie essential viewing, especially for survivors. It pulls the heartstrings even more once we witness Angie’s final act- something completely selfless, to help a little girl get away from an abusive situation.
Beauty Mark is tonally odd at times, thanks to one poorly written character, and not all the scenes make coherent sense. But its story and message are remarkable, the actors are excellent, and the realistic depiction of adult survivors of sexual abuse is heartfelt.
Beauty Mark (2017) Directed by Harris Doran. Written by Harris Doran. Starring Auden Thornton, Catherine Curtin, Jeff Kober, Laura Bell Bundy, Ben Curtis, Jameson Fowler.