Billie Piper makes an arresting directorial debut with Rare Beasts, a rom-com with a substantial difference
“Although I am scared and angry, I still love and respect myself”
Through her creative choices, especially in recent years, it is clear that Billie Piper is no ordinary talent. And with her directorial debut in a film which she also wrote and also stars, she continues to add to the ways in which she expresses that talent. Rare Beasts is an off-kilter love story that delights in the multiple ways in which it wrongfoots its audience – some may demur but I loved it.
Piper plays Mandy, a single mum treading water in a London media job and still living with her own mother. Her son Larch is full of challenging behaviour and her morale is super-low so when a date with Leo Bill’s wonderfully awful Pete materialises, and is predictably – fantastically – awkward, they still end up tumbling into a relationship in the hope that something might eventually click into place.
There’s really something here, about the ways in which we try to fit romcom tropes onto real life, even when all the signs are pointing very much in the other way. And as a director, Piper is most unafraid of a bold stylistic choice, working in several arresting set-pieces that confound expectations as the scale of Mandy’s odyssey becomes apparent, no less than a complete reassessment of self in the face of patriarchal societal norms.
She’s also cast her film expertly. Kerry Fox and David Thewlis are phenomenal as Mandy’s estranged but somehow still entangled parents, Toby Woolf’s Larch is compelling in all his complex emotions, and faces like Charlotte Randle, Jonjo O’Neill and Lily James pop up entertainingly. Bill is strikingly good too, the kind of complicated role in which he excels, his partnership with Piper electric onscreen.