There is absolutely nothing going on in Beautiful Girls that you haven’t seen in Diner, Singles, or any other artistic endeavor in which untethered young men and women, bound by geography and fortified by beer, shamble their way toward overdue maturity. In this variation, directed, with overfondness for the goofy ways of guys, by Ted Demme (The Ref) and written, with overfondness for the sound of guys pontificating about nothing, by Scott Rosenberg (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead), the setting is a fictional industrial Massachusetts town. The central character is Willie (Timothy Hutton), the One Who Got Away to try his luck on the piano-bar circuit in Manhattan. Willie is 29 and he’s got a terrific girlfriend (Annabeth Gish), but he’s, oh, not sure about commitment stuff. So he takes the bus back home for a high school reunion.
Willie’s pals are happy to see him — among them the former hotshot Birdman (Matt Dillon), who continues to get it on with his married ex-sweetheart (Lauren Holly) while dating an anorexic doormat (Mira Sorvino); and Birdman’s roommate, Paul (Michael Rapaport), who’s got a fixation about pinup supermodels. The boys sit around a lot talking about girls ‘n’ things. And while Willie molders, he also sounds out his wobbly life theories on Andera (Uma Thurman), the town bartender’s glamorous visiting cousin, as well as on Marty (Natalie Portman, the exquisite child star of The Professional), the 13-year-old girl next door on whom he develops a no-touch crush.
In the midst of this unexceptional addition to the film library of dramas about men who don’t have a clue and the women who graduated with them, two discordant female roles fascinate for their remarkable wrongness. The impossibly sophisticated and unpimpled Marty represents one end of Rosenberg’s spectrum of idealized femalehood: pretty, virginal, alluring, safe — and false. That’s because she’s a child, ladies and gentlemen — or has no one noticed, so bright is her Pepsodent smile? And at the other end, there’s Gina, the older, wiseacre local beautician, who shows up in one long pithy speech to lecture the guys about what dolls are really like. Gina is single, mouthy, chunky, ethnic, wry — and played with gusto by Rosie O’Donnell like a stand-up comedian parachuted into Boys Town. She’s the Beautiful Girls idea of what girls can understand only when they’re not beautiful. She should take the bus outta town ASAP to a place where filmmakers don’t rely on Elle Macpherson as a muse.