The Popcorn Reel
Friday, October 2, 2009

A Beautiful Life
The Lost Of Los Angeles, And The Least Of Them
By Omar P.L. Moore/
Friday, October 2, 2009

"A Beautiful Life", which opened today in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle, depicts a woman in transition.  A runaway, Maggie (Angela Sarafyan) finds her moorings amidst the homeless population of Los Angeles and begins to work her way upwards.  She finds odd jobs here and there but her abusive past comes back to haunt her, affecting her relationships with men: Maggie likes to be hit, and often hit hard, before having sex.  There's Esther (Bai Ling), a stripper who trusts men to her detriment, and David, a young man (Jesse Garcia) who is hiding out from the U.S. immigration authorities while working at the strip club where Esther performs.  Each of these characters is under the gun but none of them is remotely interesting within the context of the overall story which is sparsely written by Wendy Hammond and Deborah Calla based on Ms. Hammond's award-winning play "Jersey City".

Alejandro Chomski's film uses colorful and sometimes garish cinematography by Nancy Schreiber to exhibit the grime, sleaze and emptiness of the protagonists' situations but the acting is neither compelling nor authentic enough for the audience to care.  That said, there's a single moment of poetry -- a nice subtle and symbolic touch near the film's end, but other than that "A Beautiful Life" is a forgettable experience.  One cannot help acknowledge the well-intentioned attempt to chronicle people living within the fissures of a city that forgets or collectively looks the other way but the ironically-titled film feels like a one-track, one-station effort that has no intention on building on its terminal status.

One expects other obstacles to test these characters rather than the oft-tried and true ones employed here.  Maybe a new set of challenges for the characters might have given the actors more to chew on than they do.  Miss Sarafyan sounds as if she's reading her lines rather than acting them and Mr. Garcia hardly convinces either.  Dana Delaney shows up for a late cameo as Maggie's mother but appears to be going through the motions.  Ms. Delaney's seen better days and is a long way from the glory of her fine work in "Lightsleeper".  By her own standards, Miss Ling is subdued, displaying an occasional warmth and compassion despite her character's predicament, and although her work here isn't especially memorable she at least has the spark that this "Life" so desperately misses.

With: Meltem Cumbul, Rena Owen, Jonathan Lapaglia and Debi Mazar.

"A Beautiful Life" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America although the film contains nudity and some sexual content.  The film's duration is one hour and 21 minutes.

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