Movie of the Week: Beautiful Girls (1996)

Ted Demme directs Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton and Natalie Portman in this ensemble drama where a bar pianist returns to his hometown to find his working class school friends are all still stuck in a rut over their adolescent ideas about love, relationships and women.

A wonderful film right down to its ensemble cast and its jukebox soundtrack. Both contain picks that promote less obviously recognisable names but still are quality decisions. The entire movie has a tangy mix of hangover and seduction, regret and hope. Sure, the men are all idiots, lusting after childish ideals (in Hutton’s case the most blatantly as he starts a sweet platonic flirtation with the precocious teen next door). It is easy to mistake the film for being about men finally growing up a decade too late but I see it as them giving up the ghost on their high school fantasies of dating a super model or a immaculate sitcom girlfriend. They already know Uma Thurman’s perfect 10 and Natalie Portman’s flashback to first love or Lauren Holly’s glory day prom queen are no longer really options for them, and even if they were they wouldn’t be the right choice for these adults anyway. Desirable as they are unobtainable. Distracting as they don’t (yet) require the work and commitment a real woman does. They are faultless only on paper, lacking the care and empathy and affection and security and equality a long-term relationship brings. So we witness one last flirtation and then the come down. Reality gives these men all a good hard shake, a kicking, a cold wake-up over the course of Willie’s visit. But they already knew what the right thing to do was, who the beautiful girls they should embrace and treasure were. I wore this VHS out in the 90s. The bonhomie and running jokes were extremely comforting. This was my first watch of it after a very long time, also my first watch were I was older than the characters. The constant wit and the unshowy sophistication and the genuine heart they are written with (this is screenplay is one of Scott Rosenberg’s enviable triple run with Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead & Con Air) still stands up. This is THE underrated jewel of 1990s cinema. With the exception of Natalie Portman and Uma Thurman just about everyone involved does their very best work. The smorgasbord of indie character actors chime wonderfully together. For once not playing serial killers, junkies or flunkies but believable flawed humans you meet down the pub. Magical.


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here


  1. Paul. Writer and Filmmaker · July 10, 2020

    You know what, I think I’ve only seen this once so must see it again as a decades later rewatch. I always remember the wonderful speech O’Donnell delivers in the supermarket. Will definitely check it out again. Thanks for the fantastic review.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. PatrickWhy · July 10, 2020

    Solid indie sleeper


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