Rare Beasts (2019)
Words by Liam Conway
Rare Beasts (2019)
Billie Piper has made a bold stance in her directorial debut, Rare Beasts which seeks to turn the traditional rom-com on its head. Well…maybe not just on its head. Piper takes a chainsaw to the traditional rom-com. Left in her hands, nothing is safe.
Rare Beasts tells the story of our rebellious femme, Mandy (Billie Piper). She’s a single mother, works at an advertising firm, lives with her sickly mum, and has an active dating life. Juggling all these roles is overwhelming, and yet, modern society expects her to handle it without a fuss.
Mandy’s story opens with her on a date with Pete (Leo Bill). The two brutally insult the state of each other’s teeth until Mandy storms out of the restaurant, only to be chased down by Pete. Rather than redeeming himself, Pete merely continues to slander Mandy’s personality and makes broad judgements about women as a whole. His demeanor is malicious as he points in Mandy’s face which leads her to conclude that he is a sexual predator. This moment left me waiting to meet the sexy new man who’s gonna sweep Mandy off her feet. Instead, Piper treats us to an entire film where Mandy and Pete try to make it work. Jarring? Yes. Disorienting? Certainly. But the film hits its stride as it goes.
Pete’s just one of the ignorant men taking up space in Mandy’s life. Mandy’s father Vic, played by David Thewlis, has been largely absent from her life. Mandy struggles with Vic before revealing that she hates him during a drunken confrontation. This moment might usually act as a moment of emotional catharsis for our leading lady. In this piece, Piper again defies that expectation as Vic is unaffected by his daughter. The film illustrates that even though Vic will never acknowledge his wrongdoings, Mandy knows he’s been an awful father. Perhaps more importantly, we know it too.
Mandy and Pete get into an argument at a wedding as Pete spouts ideas on women’s inferiority. Mandy responds with the same gravitas, but he doesn’t take her seriously. It makes you wonder why Pete, with his ill-fitting suit pants that sag below his bulbous gut without the much needed help of a belt or suspenders, thinks his words bear any more weight than Mandy’s. There’s another moment at her office where she quits and throws a chair at her boss, breaking a glass window. This is one of the few moments that plays like a typical rom-com. Mandy and Pete wistfully run out of the office holding hands after a thrilling rebellious move. Each moment of hurt, chaos, and bleak hardship culminate in the brilliant finale of the film.
When I watch a movie like this, with its chaotic story structure and experimental dialogue, I’m often left frustrated. Primarily because I find they often lack a clear vision, and showcase a filmmaker losing the artistic thread somewhere along the way. That’s not the case here. The ending of Rare Beasts sticks the landing like Simone Biles, bringing it all home in a satisfying way. Pete and Mandy scream at each other while surrounded by a group of onlooking women. These women act as Mandy’s subconscious, screaming the things she’s been too afraid to utter. Like booing Pete when he tells Mandy she might not be okay without him. Other times, they exclaim thoughts that Mandy has been led to believe despite knowing they aren’t right. Mandy exclaims that she “wants a man” to which, these women are appalled.