A Beautiful Life Dir. Alejandro Chomski

[New Films International; 2008]

Any film revolving around the personality that is Bai Ling is guaranteed to be an utter train wreck, no matter how powerful or innovative the script. It's a moot point though, because A Beautiful Life is neither powerful nor innovative: it has dialogue emptier than the words of Degrassi and direction far worse than any CBS crime drama. Of course, the cherry on this shit sundae — Bai Ling, as stripper/"entertainer" Esther, singing for an audience of dirty yet attentive men -- foretells how this little movie that can’t, won’t.

A Beautiful Life tosses together the lives of individuals from diverse backgrounds in the darkest depths of Los Angeles. Angela Sarafyan’s teenage runaway, Maggie, ends up in the care of Jesse Garcia’s illegal-alien handyman, David. Esther aids both as they quest to evade their abusers and desperately try to put their pasts behind them. But director Alejandro Chomski’s jump cuts, scattered storytelling, and trying-too-hard-to-be-pithy dialogue (“Why’d you kick the chair?” “It’s my chair; I can kick it if I want.”) do the story no justice, despite the fact that the screenplay was adapted from the award-winning play Jersey City. The friendships formed between Esther, David, and Maggie have no anchor; there is no premise behind them other than each character's desperation. When David and Maggie magically fall into bed together, her lack of enthusiasm provides the first real glimpse into her troubled home life. And, of course, Bai Ling can't manage to make Esther’s positive attitude believable in the face of a dead-end stripping job, no talent, and an increasing cast of rogue boyfriends.

When the film does delve into the deep psychological scars of the characters, Chomski's fragmented vision ruins any chance of connection. It doesn’t help that Sarafyan is the only cast member who can really act. The rest of the starring cast can’t match it, and the actors who could (Debi Mazar and Dana Delaney) aren’t given a chance to show their skills. As a result, A Beautiful Life becomes the very worst kind of film: a Lifetime movie of the week in which the one good guy in the world tries to understand the one troubled woman in the world, and we learn exactly what they’ll do for lust.

A Beautiful Life tries to reproduce the clunky ins and outs of daily life. But without achieving the artistry of film -- or even the spectacle of reality television -- it fails, big time. Chomski’s lack of vision and sub-par cast and story turn what could have been an intense tale into a mess of epic proportions.

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