A high school reunion looms for the fictional town of Knights Ridge in Massachusetts, bringing together a group of six old friends. Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) is the one who got away from Knights Ridge and escaped to New York City, where he’s a pseudo-professional piano player who rarely comes back to the town to visit friends or his dad and brother. Despite this, he easily fits back into his rat pack of friends, seeing as most everyone else still hold on to their high school morals and passions.

The cast of characters stacks the deck in this movie’s favor. There’s young Marty (Natalie Portman), the neighbor girl who engages in awkward flirting and crushing with Willie. Tommy “Birdman” Rowland (Matt Dillon) is the guy who won’t let high school die, which is why he’s still sleeping with Darian Smalls (Lauren Holly), his old high school girlfriend (now married to some guy who at times reminds you of Glenn Guglia from The Wedding Singer). Michael “Mo” Morris (Noah Emmerich) is the devoted dad married to his high school girlfriend, Sarah (Anne Bobby), and seems to be one of the only guys to grow up despite staying in Knights Ridge.

Sound a bit familiar? If you were a fan of the short-lived ABC show October Road, you’ll see a ton of correlation, from the cast of characters to the name of the town. A decade after this film, writer Scott Rosenberg created the TV series to tell the same story in a different, more personal way. Just like October Road, it’s hard to not like Beautiful Girls. It captures the emotions you go through every time you return to your old roots during the holidays.

The main conflict involves Willie’s decision whether or not to further his relationship with his girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) and take a sell-out sales job. And all of his friends from back home are also dealing with dilemmas in their lives that unfold throughout the course of the movie. The feel-good ending will leave you craving some times at the old stomping grounds with your friends.

Portman really steals the scenes she’s in, despite having a minor role. Marty pins herself as “an old soul” and proves to you in her screen time how wise she truly is. Only when she is with her “friend” from school do you remember her young age.

Paul Kirkwood (Michael Rapaport) is hands-down hilarious and pathetic all at the same time. He’s in love with his old girlfriend (Martha Plimpton) and spends the movie trying to woo her while keeping up with his obsession with centerfolds (his dog’s name is Elle McPherson, just to prove his loyalty). He’s the kid brother of the group who has the most growing up to as he still thinks, acts, and occasionally looks like a 16-year-old. His monologue of what a beautiful girl does to a man is surprisingly poignant and insightful, making you fall for him even more. Too bad he doesn’t use those lines on the ladies.

Beautiful Girls is more than just girls to gawk at on the screen. It’s a look inside the lives of friends, and the way girls shape their lives, from helping the boys figure out their life’s worth and purpose to keeping them warm during the winter months. It’s touching, and most importantly, it’s real.

Hanna Soltys is a green tea drinker and film critic living in Chicago.

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