Rare Beasts REVIEW – Absolutely Maddening, In the Best Way

Billie Piper's directorial debut smashes the formulaic rom-com mould into a thousand pieces.

Rare Beasts
Rare Beasts

I am a fan of the rom-com. It’s the genre I’m probably the most familiar with, and the only genre I’d gladly sit through at the end of a long day. However, they are to be watched purely for the escapism they offer, and while there may be lessons you can gleam from some of them, at times, they portray a simplistic, reductionist view on love. Never turn to the rom-com for realism, as things fall apart only to be put together in the end. It just doesn’t work that way in real life.

Billie Piper’s debut film is a whole other beast, where the presentation is expressionist but the outcome is absolutely real – an anti rom-com, in other words. It very cleverly uses the spaces and atmosphere of a rom-com, but fills it with unhinged chaos. The film begins with Mandy (Piper) and Pete’s (Leo Bill) first date, a date where nearly everything he says is a red flag. Mandy is so put off by him that she vomits, and you expect him to be the dud she shakes off before she meets the right guy.

However, despite his blatant misogyny and backward notions about the roles of man and woman, Mandy continues to see him. It’s a perplexing thing for us viewers, until we observe all the men who surround Mandy. Her father (David Thewlis) is flaky and a cheat, her boss constantly mansplains and berates her about her depiction of women, and then there’s Pete.

Her son Larch (Toby Woolf) also has behavioural issues, and requires quite a bit of attention from her. She’s always giving so much of herself to others that there isn’t much attention to her needs and what she wants. Additionally, there is the inherited lies our mothers and other women feed us, that if a man singles you out and is mean to you, it’s probably because he likes you. We really need to stop saying that – it just isn’t true.

Mandy’s insecurity keeps her with Pete; maybe this is the best she can settle for. Their friends encourage their relationship (to our absolute horror), with everyone reiterating that a suitable, ideal partner is a myth, and that a woman’s job is to unearth the nugget of gold beneath all the anger and aggression. Pete believes that too, which is why he is trying to cajole her into marriage instead of trying to find someone who is a match for him.

Rare Beasts doesn’t villainise the men – after all, her father returns to help with her mom when he finds out about the cancer, and Pete is good with Larch, maybe because he’s such a man-child himself. I’m not even exaggerating, he literally throws a temper tantrum on the ground.

Mandy’s keen observation of her parents’ relationship reminds me of Philip Larkin’s “This be the Verse”, which is about the baggage parents pass on to their children. All Mandy’s ever been exposed to is chaos and conflict, so that’s what a relationship means to her, one that she tries to play out with Pete.

We often get extreme close-ups of Mandy’s face, and Piper is so skilled in allowing us a glimpse into her character’s interior, where there exists a morose ennui that cannot be purged – maybe that’s okay. I love the messy depiction of women (there are numerous instances of women breaking down in the film), however, a mad woman is merely tolerated and not condoned – a man like Pete would rather have a woman untouched by life’s bleak realities.

But hey, who cares what he wants? Mandy doesn’t, and you shouldn’t too.

Review screener provided.

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Rare Beasts
Billie Piper's directorial debut breathes anarchy into the spaces of the rom-com - the result is a daring film that isn't afraid to be ugly, or even bestial.