After a short-lived yet highly memorable career in pop, Billie Piper cemented her position as a household name when she joined the cast of Doctor Who in 2005 as his assistant Rose, a role she played for eight years.
It’s unfortunate that her private life has often overshadowed her career, but then her bold choice of real life companion is likely to attract some public interest; she’s been married to DJ and savvy businessman Chris Evans, as well as actor Laurence Fox, both of whom are no stranger to tabloid scrutiny.
But with the likes of Secret Diary of a Call Girl and the recent I Hate Suzie, Piper has impressively raised her acting game, making her one of the most exciting prospects to watch in years.
Rare Beasts marks her directorial debut, from her own script, which she also stars in, as a woman whose relationship is far from routine.
Mandy (Piper), a young mother to her son Larch (Toby Woolf), is looking for love. She thinks she’s found it in work colleague Pete (Leo Bill), but to say their relationship is prickly from the off, is an understatement.
Despite having little in common, the pair struggle to develop as a couple, with not only life, but each other, getting in the way at times. Which begs the question, are they soul mates, or simply two broken individuals simply making do with one another?
Billing itself as an anti-rom-com certainly gives it a quirky description, but one it struggles to live up to, unless what it’s really saying is that the film is neither romantic nor funny, which is sadly true.
The problem from the off is Piper’s script; it’s a laboured affair, pseudo theatrical just for the sake of it, that drowns any possibility of getting a sense of any of the characters involved. After a while they become nothing more than caricatures, certainly larger than life, but simultaneously lifeless.
Each one is self important, with much of the dialogue said for attention, with no emotional weight to back anything up.
The relationship between Mandy and Pete is by no means convincing on any level; Pete is a man with no redeeming features, lacking attractiveness both physically and in personality. He offers neither Mandy nor the audience any sense that she would settle for such a void of a human being. If there is a spark between them then it must be of the invisible variety as it can’t be seen on screen.
So much so that the time they share on screen soon becomes quite grating, as pointless exercises so often are, with a willingness for Mandy to move on and find someone far more compatible.
Considering the characters that Piper herself has been involved in, you would expect that she could have drawn on some of those experiences to breathe some much-needed life into this limp script. But apparently not.
But Mandy doesn’t do herself any real favours; she is a protagonist that is so distant, she makes it impossible to either like her, or care about her current woes.
It is a film that is surprisingly intense, and yet ultimately vacuous at the same time. The biggest thing missing from the film and all the performances is heart. Perhaps an anti-rom-com isn’t allowed one, but without it, Rare beasts is a hollow experience. It’s as if the film is relying on the audience to except all the characters they see as broken, but there’s a marked difference between being broken and simply being empty husks.
Kudos for Piper for taking on triple the responsibilities, but it’s clear she’s taken on more than she can chew. Certainly the script could possibly work on stage, where you can get away with that thespian bullshit that her peers would no doubt simply adore, but it just doesn’t work as a film.
It is a film that is likely to leave you in a similar emotional state to all the characters that appear in it – numb, which isn’t exactly ideal.