Writer-director Billie Piper shows plenty of storytelling skill with her debut feature Rare Beasts, but its boundless energy can be exhausting
Reaching cinemas in the wake of her powerhouse series I Hate Suzie, Billie Piper showcases confident storytelling skills with her directorial debut Rare Beasts. The ‘anti-romcom’ sees single mother and writer Mandy (Piper) meeting the God-fearing self-described misogynist Pete (Leo Bill), whose bitterness and traditional values conceal an unseen capacity for empathy. It’s a venomous, toxic, and unpleasant film that’s frequently compelling, but disappointingly uneven.
Mandy has to be a good mum, act as mediator for her parents’ separation, and continue to write well for the production company at which she works, and Piper astutely focuses on the gendered expectations that layer the professional and social spheres within which Mandy operates. Her environment constantly feels anxiety-inducing; this is a London of people bumping into each other, car alarms randomly blaring, and dogs barking through the night. No-one outside of Mandy is particularly likeable, but Piper gets dramatic mileage out of the constantly sparring interpersonal dynamics. When the weird idiosyncrasies of the characters feel like they’re informing internal growth, as happens in a particularly chaotic wedding sequence, Rare Beasts shines.
While it’s not without strong pulls of emotion, the energy of the film (and the constant yelling) is so relentless that it inevitably becomes an exhausting watch. What was charming about the characters soon becomes grating, and Piper’s script overestimates how much an audience really cares about the ensemble. Still, Rare Beasts works convincingly enough as a singular vision of a woman figuring out her own worth in a tortuous modern world.
Released 21 May by Republic Film; certificate 15