A 'Beautiful Life,' Sought In L.A.'s Seedier Corners

W: Jesse Garcia and Angela Sarafyan in 'A Beautiful Life'

hide captionSuburban secrets: Maggie (Angela Sarafyan), a sheltered teen from the suburbs, runs away to Los Angeles to escape a troubled home.

New Films International

A Beautiful Life

  • Director: Alejandro Chomski
  • Genre: Social issue melodrama
  • Running Time: 81 minutes

Not Rated: Violence, nudity, profane language

With: Jesse Garcia, Angela Sarafyan, Debi Mazar, Bai Ling

An ironically titled descent into L.A.'s muddy depths, A Beautiful Life invokes some serious topics. But it's hard to take them seriously, because the movie piles up characters and controversies more or less at random.

Introduced while riding a bus toward the city's Skid Row, Maggie (Angela Sarafyan) is a teenage runaway with good reason to run. When she finds temporary refuge in a homey strip club, a quick shower reveals her battered shoulders and back.

The joint's featured attraction, Chinese hoofer Esther (Bai Ling), is shocked by Maggie's bruises. She commands the club's Salvadoran janitor, David (Jesse Garcia), to give the girl a place to sleep in his grungy industrial loft.

Maggie, a willowy suburban princess, and David, a beefy illegal immigrant, are bristlingly incompatible, so inevitably they fall in love. But Maggie soon admits to a sexual kink that complicates the relationship.

This conflicted romance would be enough to sustain a drama, especially given the eventual arrival of Maggie's despicable dad (Jonathan LaPaglia) and loving but ineffectual mom (Desperate Housewives' Dana Delany).

But Wendy Hammond and Deborah Calla's script, adapted from Hammond's stage play, insists on boosting the squalor with gamy subplots. Many of them involve Maggie and David's frantic quest for cash.

Jesse Garcia in 'A Beautiful Life' i i

hide captionDavid (Jesse Garcia), an illegal immigrant, struggles with finding employment. Eventually he undertakes drastic — and illegal — measures to make money.

New Films International
Jesse Garcia in 'A Beautiful Life'

David (Jesse Garcia), an illegal immigrant, struggles with finding employment. Eventually he undertakes drastic — and illegal — measures to make money.

New Films International

Driven from his job by an immigration raid, David is threatened with eviction. Maggie's temporary gigs include selling homemade bracelets on the street and working at a Korean mini-market that pays less than the minimum wage. Oh yeah, and being a drug courier.

Meanwhile, Esther fights for true love, and awaits her big break as a chanteuse. Luckily, she works at the sort of indulgent nudie bar whose management (and audience) doesn't mind that she'd rather sing than strip.

When not hauling packets of dope to pistol-packing supermodels, meanwhile, Maggie studies for her GED. She also seeks counseling for sexual dysfunction, thanks to a librarian (Debi Mazar) who doubles as an unofficial social worker.

Argentine-bred director Alejandro Chomski could have done better with this preposterous saga, but not probably much. Even with a bigger budget and higher production values, the screenplay would have defeated him.

Stefan Banica and Bai Ling in 'A Beautiful Life' i i

hide captionEsther (Bai Ling) works as a stripper but dreams of a better life as a professional singer.

New Films International
Stefan Banica and Bai Ling in 'A Beautiful Life'

Esther (Bai Ling) works as a stripper but dreams of a better life as a professional singer.

New Films International

The actors face a similar dilemma. Sarafyan and Garcia are engaging enough, and the sharp-featured Ling is always a formidable presence, even if delivering lines in English is not among her principal skills.

But these performers, and most of the other ones, struggle with scenes that are simply unplayable. And despite closeups of gyrating strippers, the movie can't be enjoyed as campy sleaze. A Beautiful Life is too earnest to be a hoot, and too amateurish to be anything else.

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