A Beautiful Life begins like a bad joke: “An abused teen, an illegal immigrant, and a stripper with a heart of gold meet in a sex club kitchen…” Unfortunately, the only humor in Alejandro Chomski’s film stems from its awfulness, which comes in so many forms that it’s hard to single out just one appalling example. Fresh off the bus from suburbs unknown, Maggie (Angela Sarafyan) is scared by the L.A. streets’ homeless and hooker population, and promptly takes refuge in a dumpster. Strip club bus boy David (Jesse Garcia) finds her in this swank resting place—“What are you doing in there?” he asks; “I got lost,” she replies—and brings her inside to see exotic dancer Esther (Bai Ling), who immediately forces David to let the girl stay at his place. As the visa-less David avoids immigration officials and Maggie demands that David smack her during sex (cue flashback snippets to naughty daddy rape!), Esther is dumped by a boyfriend to whom she can’t commit and dreams of having a music career.
Based on co-writer Wendy Hammond’s play, this intertwined tale of people struggling on society’s fringe plays like bad community theater, with wretchedly obvious dialogue and hamfisted performances turning its serious issues into the stuff of unintentional comedy. With a sad saxophone-accompanied song for her boob-loving customers, Esther proves an even worse singer than stripper, while David and Maggie’s conversations about money and violent sex are of such a dim variety that director Chomski seems intent on suggesting that the real cause of his characters’ dire circumstances is their joint idiocy. “I’m not crazy, I’m fucked up!” screams Maggie at David after another failed attempt at non-combative lovemaking. The same holds true for Beautiful Life, which finds time to include a drug-running subplot but can’t—as evidenced by Esther’s mysterious third-act disappearance—even bother to keep track of its characters.