In Some Kind of Beautiful, director Tom Vaughan takes Matthew Newman’s screenplay, a hodgepodge of horny-old-man clichés writ large, and stages it not as farce, but as gleeful affirmation of its male lead’s ego and entitlement. Richard (Pierce Brosnan) is a renowned poetry prof trying to fill the shoes of his father, Gordon (Malcolm McDowell), who’s since retired. When Richard visits, Gordon hounds him for not already sitting as department chair; then, after a snide comment from his own wife, he barks: “Stop talking about my cock, woman.” Gordon’s suggestion that his own wife is merely a thing, a non-descript entity that he can shut down on command, would be playful were there an edgier sense driving Newman’s dialogue and Vaughan’s direction. Since each is out for base gags and uncritical observations, the line lands with a thud in a film that has no clear ideas or perceptions about its characters, who are the one-dimensional constructs of shrill, often tone-deaf filmmaking.
Some Kind of Beautiful is so comprehensively clueless in its depiction of an academic environment that many scenes grind to an immediate halt. In the classroom, Richard saunters around and pontificates about Lord Byron, while lamenting the contemporary student’s apathy for cultural matters of the past. Even when Richard thinks a student is raising his hand to answer a question, he’s really just inquiring about the campus Wi-Fi password. Instead of taking Richard to task for his outmoded teaching style, lecherous pursuit of students, and apathy for reinventing himself as a scholar, Vaughan is content to rely on punchline-oriented comedy that excuses Richard’s ethical shortcomings and views him as an empathetic man-boy who’s never individuated himself from his domineering father.
That premise would be valid, but Vaughan doesn’t seriously evaluate Richard’s psychology; even when he attends Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s meant as another opportunity to relish the character’s knuckle-headed distance from those around him. At the film’s climax, Richard hams it up for Piggott (Fred Melamed), who’s visiting in order to assess Richard’s qualifications for an opening at a Los Angeles university. Seemingly gripped by a moment of clarity, Richard tells his students that literature of the past is irrelevant if they aren’t locating its impact on their current pursuits. Such a claim is commonplace in pedagogical circles; in Some Kind of Beautiful, it’s a subversive educational claim that apparently grants one immediate tenure.
But even if the film had the institutional stuff right, it’d still have nearly everything else wrong, since it uncritically treats the women in Richard’s life as carousel horses for his amusement. As Kate, one of Richard’s grad students, Jessica Alba is asked to parade around in a pair of panties in the bedroom while her prof looks on, admiringly. As Olivia, Kate’s sister, Salma Hayek gets to lose her towel while fleeing after quick sex with Richard, only to end up naked in a pool. Both of these women, tried and true comedic talents, are here reduced to fawning emblems of physical perfection, primarily meant to endure Richard’s insufferable ego, until the film decides he wasn’t a bad guy after all. He was just, you know, a little lost…at 60. When Brosnan’s “executive producer” line appears during the end credits, one wishes the producers had given the film’s title a bit more thought and decided upon Some Kind of Chauvinist Bullshit.