- Emma Simmonds
- 17 May 2021
Billie Piper's directorial debut boasts much to admire but is still hard to enjoy
Finally landing a release off the back of Billie Piper's recent small screen hit I Hate Suzie (co-created with Lucy Prebble and recently nominated for three TV BAFTAs), 2019's Rare Beasts marks the Olivier Award-winning actress's feature debut as writer-director. It has been dubbed an anti-romcom and emphatically delivers on that description.
Piper plays unlucky-in-love single mother Mandy, who reluctantly cops off with her colleague Pete (Leo Bill), despite their lack of chemistry and his often sneering and derogatory attitude towards her. She's working for a production company and is currently living with her mum Marion (Kerry Fox). Marion is separated from Mandy's errant father Vic (David Thewlis), who nevertheless pops up. There's a cameo from Lily James as a smug and showy bride called Cressida, who has some wisdom to share.
What Piper has produced here shows significant potential. She has admirable curiosity about the human condition and probes her subjects with intelligence. Packed with painful personal insults and with romcom conventions ironically employed, it's an often-grotesque depiction of the battle of the sexes, and the cruelties that people inflict and endure. Piper shows real zeal as an interrogator and turns in an expressive, open and typically fearless performance, digging unselfconsciously into a truly horrible relationship – and apparently saying a lot about her own insecurities and previous relationships as she does so.
But the aforementioned I Hate Suzie is far more successful at spinning comparable ideas into assured entertainment. Despite Rare Beast's spirited visuals, there's something stagey about the execution and it feels weighed down by its own ponderousness, rarely springing enjoyably to life. In the end, it's something to sporadically admire rather than particularly fall for.
Available to watch in cinemas and on select digital platforms from Fri 21 May.