LA Film Fest 2017: Beauty Mark, by David Bax
In an early scene in Harris Doran’s Beauty Mark, protagonist Angie (Auden Thornton) is being chastised by her boss at a Louisville convenience store for being on the phone with a debt collector while ringing up customers. “It was an emergency!” she protests. “It’s always an emergency!” he fires back. That’s a concise and lucid summation of the nature of poverty, when you really are constantly on the brink of complete collapse. Unfortunately, it’s one of the few times in the movie where Doran chooses empathy over proselytizing. Beauty Mark has important things to say on important topics but it’s simply too dry; the power of the story is lost in the endless point-making.
Poverty isn’t Angie’s only cross to bear. She’s also a sexual abuse survivor, having been repeatedly molested at the age of five by her mother’s boyfriend, Bruce, a a regular volunteer at their church. He’s played by the great veteran character actor Jeff Kober, once again putting to disquieting use his conflicting mixture of intimidating visage and soulful, wounded eyes. When Angie, whose meager paycheck provides for both her young son (Jameson Fowler) and her alcoholic mother (Catherine Curtin), is evicted, the money needed for a new place (first and last month plus security deposit) seems like it might as well be on the moon. Desperate, she decides to seek out ways of getting the money from Bruce, as a meager retribution.
There’s a promising bit of conflict to this set-up, in which Angie seeks to do something noble in a way that, to others, appears vulgar an opportunistic. It’s been almost twenty years and now she speaks up because she wants money? Frustratingly, after a couple of characters voice that reaction, it is essentially dropped.
Another promising but under-pursued thread comes from Bruce’s position in the community’s church. When Angie brings her story to the pastor (Deirdre Lovejoy), she lashes out with accusations and threats. It’s an illustration of how a predator, when aligned with an institution, can relay on that institution to protect him by way of protecting itself. The pastor’s gender becomes immaterial; she has to protect her church first. Again, though, her change of heart comes too quickly for Doran to follow through.
Instead, he spends the rest of the film with strident depictions of how people don’t believe survivors or tend to judge them and that this is why so many of them don’t come forward (plus some condescending ideas about women who work as strippers). Like I said, this is an important message but, without the emotional power the story could have had, it has only the brief, blunt effect of a billboard.