A Beautiful Life
SF Studios Production, 2023
Mehdi Avaz and Stefan Jaworski
📷 : Used with Permission, Netflix
Thought-provoking movies and TV shows
Movies and TV shows with heart, positive vibes, and warm messages
Entertainers, or more specifically music artists, are rarely viewed as being invested in anyone other than themselves. They are often begrudged by less successful people for their wealth and talent, and frequently objectified by fans as icons that churn out likable tunes but who are void of humanity. This seems like a harsh assessment, but one need only pick up any pop star magazine or check out the number of celebrity Twitter followers to realize this is the case. What is interesting about A Beautiful Life is its depiction of pop stardom as all these things, with the added dimension of the human element.
Set in Denmark, A Beautiful Life follows Elliott, a late 20-something who works as a fisherman, saves his pay, and lives alone on an unseaworthy, small wooden boat. A gifted musician, he has no aspirations to perform professionally. His best friend, Oliver, however, does, so Elliott performs the guitar accompaniment for him at a local club in Ebeltoft. But on a night when a major music producer is expected in the audience, Oliver is unprepared and goes cold mid-performance, forcing Elliott to play and sing to cover for him. Predictably, Elliott gets noticed for his talent and Oliver, played by Sebastian Jessen (While We Live, 4Reality), is shunned for his lack of it, leading to friction between the two friends.
Played by Danish pop star Christopher, Elliott, who was orphaned at a young age, initially resists demonstrating his range of musical talents, so much so that his producer Lilly, played by Inga Ibsdotter Lilleaas (The Last King, Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts), considers giving up on him. Guilt-ridden, Elliott needs to be cajoled into seizing the opportunity in front of him, but indulging it is like punishment. It is as if he feels undeserving of the chance to become hugely successful at something he loves.
A Beautiful Life brings to mind the 1997 film, Good Will Hunting, with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as best friends from a working-class area of Boston. While both work alongside each other in building demolition, Matt’s character, Will, is a math genius who insists on staying with his friends and busting bricks for life, rather than exploring opportunities readily available to him in math and engineering. Like Elliott in A Beautiful Life, this reluctance is a part of his deeper issues around loyalty, fear, and sense of guilt.
In Good Will Hunting, Will’s therapist, Sean, played by Robin Williams, gets him to understand why he won’t take this step. Elliott has proxy therapists, so a good portion of the film is spent with him brooding while those around him offer sage advice and tough love. Also, unlike Will, whose best friend Chuckie insists he seizes his opportunities — telling Will “If you’re still around here in 20 years, I swear to God I’ll kill you” – Elliott’s best friend is too jealous to do such a thing. Instead, Oliver asserts that Elliott’s limelight should be shared with him “since [Elliott] is living [his] life.”
The similarities and nuances between the two films are not meant to suggest that A Beautiful Life is a potential Oscar contender, let alone winner, like Good Will Hunting. The film does not spend enough time letting the audience get to know Elliott before he shifts into the world of music. It is as if the film wanted to get to the frenzied life of being a professional musician with pressures all around to wear a mask of happiness and perform on cue. With no family, what did Elliott do in his spare time? What comprised his social life with friends other than Oliver? How is it that Oliver is so important to him when they are only shown bickering with one another? What kinds of things did he enjoy other than music?
Additionally, Elliott’s insistence that he lacks interest in pursuing music professionally is at odds with his level of talent that surely took time to develop. Who doesn’t pick up a guitar and imagine him– or herself performing on stage? Even accepting this, what drove him to hone his musical talents – and how did he become so good? It is as if the film tried too hard to fashion Elliott as a unicorn.
Elliott’s high level of talent suggests that music did indeed matter to him and that he aspired to play professionally. The omissions and inconsistencies in the film make the story seem disingenuous. But the film’s theme that deeply personal issues keep us stuck in the mud rings strong and true. Moreover, the film adds the dimension that while loss can lead to inertia and dampen aspirations, it can also instill strong will and determination if you keep company with people who care about you and vice versa. These elements get at the depth and breadth of humanity that move Elliott’s celebrity from icon to being just human like the rest of us, dealing with hardship.