Socialist Worker

Rare Beasts—a chaotic film with a confused message

Billie Piper wanted her first film to say something about sexism, parenthood and relationships—but what that something is isn’t clear, says Blythe Taylor

Issue No. 2755

Billie Piper directs and stars as Mandy in Rare Beasts

Billie Piper directs and stars as Mandy in Rare Beasts


In Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, Mandy lives at home in London with her mother and young son. The film opens abruptly with a date where Mandy finds herself sitting opposite ranting misogynist Pete. 

Anti-love interest Pete ­introduces himself in the film as “hating women”, stuck in his own heightened sense of self-worth as he battles to affirm his male identity.

It’s never clear if we’re supposed to sympathise with this man or condemn him yet he remains a central figure, much to the film’s detriment.

Pitched as a black comedy and an alternative to the conventional rom-com, it rests itself on self-deprecating humour and blunt exchanges of dialogue.

The film has its interesting moments with some surreal offshoots from the main narrative. It is heavily stylised with saturated colours and bold transitions.

In one whimsical and tragic scene we’re plunged into a dimly lit stage set featuring a bedroom as the auditorium.

It’s an anxiety inducing scene. Younger versions of Mandy tap dance to attract the attention of her parents in the audience as they squabble ­bitterly with each other.

By this point we already know of their deteriorated relationship.

Mandy’s character spends most of the film being a stressed single mother. It feels like she is destined to take her mother’s role, living a life of resentment and chain smoking.

The world in Rare Beasts is conflicting and abrasive. It goes some way to describing the social alienation of navigating a society in which expectations of love and family are thrust upon us

It feels like both characters have more to say—yet it’s never said. Neither of their stories hit the right tone and often fall back on ­centring on the men in their lives, who are often a parody of fragile masculinity.

The film’s erratic and hasty approach to storytelling quickly becomes confusing as we’re pushed from one situation to another.

This does reflect the chaos of Pete and Mandy’s volatile ­relationship, all the while accompanied by Mandy’s son, who struggles with his own behaviour. Piper looks to take on issues around single motherhood, everyday sexism and religion. Yet these themes linger on the surface with no depth.

Caricatures of screaming women replace any room for nuance and it’s difficult to understand what message the film is trying to pinpoint.

There is a brief glimpse of what the story might be getting at when Mandy exclaims that all she wants is a five-hour day and a stew that keeps.

The world in Rare Beasts is conflicting and abrasive. It goes some way to describing the social alienation of navigating a society in which expectations of love and family are thrust upon us.

But rather than breaking down these social relations or providing some element of consolation, the film feels like a concession to what it claims to challenge.

Rare Beasts is in cinemas from 21 May

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Reviews
Tue 18 May 2021, 12:47 BST
Issue No. 2755
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