In the last scene of The First Beautiful Thing, when the mother is lying on her deathbed—this gives nothing away—and has had kind of a bad life, what you recognize is how just-fine she is, how the movie has refused to be dramatic about the badness of her life. Why can’t more movies do this? Instead, most movies (this is a family drama) seem to imply that happiness comes from happy events or the ending of sad events, and also (because this is the movies) from being beautiful.
In this case, the woman is very beautiful, but it is a problem. She is taken in by many men, but kicked out again. She is not a heroine. She is not that smart, and she is not ambitious. She is also stuck in a provincial town, but the town has both its ugliness and its charm. Such well-roundedness! This is a movie of total middleness, and I loved it for that. It does not feel like life—that would be a false claim. It feels like a movie, but a movie made by people who live actual lives, rather than by the pseudo-organic life forms that consult focus groups. Because of this, the movie gives you something, some warmth, rather than taking something away. I suspect I will keep many of these scenes in my mind, almost as if they were my own memories, for a long time.
Paolo Virzì is the name of the director, and the town is Livorno, his own hometown. He is calm as he writes his crazy-making town a letter. The son in the movie—that’s maybe Virzì. He comes around, this crotchety young man, but not to any big revelations or actions. He just becomes more like his mother, like the sort of person who might be happy on her deathbed. May we all, right?