Belated Film Review: DiCaprio, Danny Boyle, and Crystal Blue Bikinis in ‘The Beach’

Somewhere, paradise must exist.

I only just watched The Beach the other day. Well aware that it was a cult film, I knew that was either a great thing or a dull thing: it could have earned its young admiration with its plot, acting, and excellence… or it could just be a piece of shit that wasn’t good enough to break the box office or impress the critics.

Critics are stuffy and we all know this, which is why ‘cult classics’ become cult classics. But sometimes, perhaps, the critics get it right. And the backhanded compliment is just that, that it’s good enough for Netflix, not good enough for a bigger screen.

But The Beach was good. Terrific, even, if you let it be. It’s very Danny Boyle, in the sense that all of Leonardo DiCaprio’s typical, 20-something whining about the real life back home and his parents’ wishes is delivered with self-awareness. It’s not meant to substitute for real content or the storyline – it’s meant to advance the plot.

Likewise, Boyle uses the beauty of Thailand and Ko Phi Phi as if it’s a main character, just behind DiCaprio’s Richard and Francoise’s smile, but he doesn’t use it to compensate for script holes. He doesn’t use the beach as a set piece to comb over a crap movie.

(NOTE: Woody Allen did all that to a tee in Midnight in Paris, which is why that movie stood out above his other Mediterranean flings like Vicky Cristina Barcelona (which I actually thought was great, too) or When in Rome (which really wasn’t). The movie watched Owen Wilson wander around France with wonder, like a teenager who discovers the word baguette for the first time. You wonder if it’s just going to be a 90-minute ad for Paris, and you wonder if Wilson’s even more of a pretentious prick than Rachel McAdams or Michael Sheen. But all that prose is intentional – it gives the film a reason to travel back to Hemingway’s Roaring Twenties, it gives Woody a reason to jump from here to there, and it’s also realistic. Most Americans, on their first trip to Europe, either sound like they’re in the clouds or unimpressed. Everyone in Midnight in Paris sounds like they’re firmly in either camp.)

Although I can totally see why so many reviewers shamed The Beach on its arrival. It’s messy and rather weird, like all of Boyle’s stuff. It’s charming like dirt below the fingernails is charming.

It’s also misleading – this film is a psychedelic thriller. If it’s a travel piece, so is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

So try not to expect anything. Just watch it, and give it time. Eventually, the idealism will fade away, and you’ll enjoy the film.

Throwback Trailer: The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio (2000)

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