by George Wolf
Actor and filmmaker Craig Roberts has pointed to a family member beset by mental illness as the inspiration for Eternal Beauty. You can feel the care Roberts takes in trading stigmas for “superpowers,” as well as the trust he puts in his stellar ensemble to mine the subtle humanity in his script.
Roberts played Sally Hawkins’s son in the sublime Submarine ten years ago, and arranging a working reunion sits right at the top of the smart choices made for his second feature as writer/director.
The Oscar-nominated Hawkins plays Jane, a woman managing to live independently with paranoid schizophrenia, constant medication and bouts of depression. She still has scars from being left at the altar years before, and receives precious little affection or encouragement from her mother (the always welcome Penelope Wilton) or sisters (Alice Lowe, Billie Piper).
Jane’s choice to take a break from her meds brings concerns (like the giant spider hallucinations) but also some welcome clarity amid her constant fog. After first rebuffing the interest of Mike (David Thewlis), an aspiring musician with similar mental issues, Jane accepts his advances, and the two begin a relationship bearing all the awkwardness and free-spirited fun of first love.
Hawkins, again, is a wonderful vessel of expression. Jane may stumble through her days wearing oversized clothes and offering hushed sentences, but she’s always observing and dissecting. She can notice the red flags of her brother-in-law’s wandering eye, and sensibly concoct a darkly hilarious plan to improve her family’s choice in Christmas gifts. Through it all, Hawkins’s vision of Jane is never less than human, and always deeply affecting.
Roberts often films with disjointed angles and changing colors to reflect Jane’s worldview, which sounds more cloying than it actually is, much like the tonal shifts that Roberts softens through a wise commitment to understatement.
More than once in the film we hear a doctor advise: “Don’t fight depression, make friends with it.” By treating Jane’s joy and heartbreak less like a clinical study and more as parts of a greater familial whole, Eternal Beauty finds a way to make those orders seem doable.