However, Piper is fantastic as Mandy. She and Bill share wonderful chemistry that suggests maybe they are onto something, even if it is hard to see it in-between tall tales of infidelity that get him off. When Mandy’s hurt that her mom told her dad that she was sick first, her frustrations are believable. Leo Bill is also quite good as the odious Pete. At a wedding, when who may or may not be Larch’s father shows up, he gets angry. Bill plays this scene with just the right amount of rancor and confusion.
Kerry Fox and David Thewlis both get a meaty scene or two to really sink their teeth into and are as amazing as ever. The young Toby Woolf is all yelling and high energy as Larch and nails it. He and Piper play off each other well, and Woolf excellently acts a scene involving a pigeon.
As a writer, Piper has a wonderful ear for dialogue. Mandy and Leo’s often uncomfortable conversations might not sound 100% realistic, but they have their own rhythm and work within the context of the movie. Piper’s ending speech is especially grand.
“…honing in on the squeamish atmosphere of the film and ensuring it permeates every scene.”
Plus, her ambitions to tackle toxic masculinity, sexist work cultures, the constant need for women to appear as if they have it all together (but who does?), and upend traditional rom-com tropes give Rare Beasts a vibe all its own. Again, while certain storylines with some characters don’t always gel as intended, it is not for lack of trying.
Piper proves a capable director, honing in on the squeamish atmosphere of the film and ensuring it permeates every scene. One scene is a bit too dark to tell what is going on properly, but the dialogue during it is some of the best of the entire film, so it is easy to overlook. At the wedding, as mentioned earlier, Piper really shows off her stylistic chops after a lifetime in the entertainment industry. As the song blares out, and the guests let loose, so too, one by one, do Mandy, Larch, and Pete let go of their inhibitions and dance their hearts out. The movie cuts to several different angles, mirroring the tempo of the song, until crescendoing as all three of them are happy, if just for this one brief moment.
Rare Beasts is a rare beast, indeed. A romantic comedy that is about not actually falling in love. A familial drama in which the divorced parents reconcile in the most lighthearted scenes of the film. Billie Piper’s first feature-length movie as screenwriter and director may have bitten off more than it could chew, but it is a daring debut that marches to the beat of its own drum. I respect it for that and enjoyed it more often than not.
Rare Beasts was scheduled to screen at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.
"…sexist work cultures, the constant need for women to appear as if they have it all together, and upend traditional rom-com tropes..."