Beautiful Ohio (2006) Poster

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A Family Finding Itself
gradyharp30 November 2008
Ethan Canin is one of our more important authors ('America, America', 'Emperor of the Air', 'The Palace Thief' which became the film 'The Emperor's Club') and to discover a screenplay/story by him is a treat. BEAUTIFUL OHIO is a fascinating little film directed by Chad Lowe about an apparently close knit family that knows really very little about each other: it is Canin's purpose to unravel the stories of 'ordinary people confronting aspects of themselves they'd rather not see.' Behind each member's delusions and hopes to ultimately reach the mid-ground of recognition of just how special is each member is where this very tender story travels.

Simon Messerman (William Hurt) is an insurance salesman who happens to read voraciously and speaks in quotations of famous writers and thinkers. His wife Judith (Rita Wilson) is equally bright, quotes as often as William, but adds a flavor of correcting people's grammar and living in a world of her beloved composers (Chopin, Schumann, Mozart, etc). They have two sons - Clive (David Call) is a long-haired math genius who despite his gifts spends his time playing loud hard rock music and speaking in a language all his own, and William (Brett Davern) who is devoted to his more intelligent brother but longs for a sense of normalcy in a family that tends to fragment at odd times. Clive's best friend and the only person who understands his special language is Elliot (Hale Appleman): the two of them essentially keep to themselves and smoke pot while they are not entertaining the 'homeless' Sandra (Michelle Trachtenberg). Sandra chooses to live in the basement of the Messerman house to avoid coping with her own abusive parents. The four youngsters are a team of sorts, thought the interrelationship roles each plays is not at first apparent.

The Messermans brag about Clive's constant triumphs at math contests, entertain their neighbors the Cubanos (Matt Servitto and Julianna Marguiles), and fill their lives with attending math meets, basically ignoring the personalities of their two boys. William longs for acceptance and understanding by his parents: Clive lives in his own world. William is driven to discover the meaning of Clive's strange language and eventually finds clues that lead to the secrets he'd rather not know. A situation occurs that stuns the family, and the story jumps forward to the resolving aftermath of that discovery.

For a bare bones budget film the story is well told and is a compelling one. Ethan Canin reads better on the page than his words convey through the mouths of actors, and at times the result is pretentious dialogue. But the cast is superb and the ending is one that makes the audience stop, think, and want to see the movie again for the clues we missed. Well worth seeing. Grady Harp
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"A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems." -- Paul Erdos
AlexanderAnubis14 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
It's 1973. It's Ohio. Clive (David Call) is a twenty-eight year old high school student who wears his hair like Veronica Lake, stores his beard in the basement, and is a rude little snot. In particular, he adopts an attitude of overwhelmingly smug superiority towards his family, (and beyond...he is more arrogant than thirty 19th Century Prussian noblemen combined), spouts truisms as though they are profundities, and has a habit of answering polite, direct questions in one of the following manners:

1. Ignores the questioner entirely.

2. Asks the questioner a provocative, smarmy, personal question that entirely evades the original query.

3. Treats the questioner to a pompous load of esoteric bs with the implication that his answer is beyond them.

4. Responds with one or two words in Hungarian, a language he pretends to have invented, and apparently, has made it through seventeen or eighteen years of this affected crap without encountering anyone smart enough to call him on it.

However, Clive is entitled because he's a genius, particularly in math. We know this because we see him do things like use a soldering iron and attach an antenna to a toaster, (lord knows why), and because we see him in a gymnasium finishing a math exam first while his family anxiously looks on from the bleachers. (Of course, Clive, being Clive, plops his exam (in a blue book, of all things) down with a smack, struts away with body language clearly implying contempt for the procedure, and kicks the wooden gym door open with a loud bang even though the rest of the participants are still working.)

(Just by the way, one learns to expect bad science and math in movies, but mathematics is not extracting square roots or computing numerical logarithms or enumerating the primes between 900 and 950, and mathematics competitions contain none of that kind of stuff as problems. Its been many years, but I recall an easy one from one of the Putnam exams: A common calculus mistake is to assume that the product rule for derivatives is (fg)' = f'g'. If f(x) = exp (-x^2), find a continuous function g(x), such that this wrong product rule is right.*)

Apparently Clive's mathematical genius didn't emerge until late in his high school career, because had it appeared earlier, anyone like him who thinks math is based on "absolute certainty," (no, it isn't), "knows everything about it," (impossible), and considers it finite and structurally self-evident, "like a cathedral," (way off the mark), would long since have placed out of any standard curriculum and at least be doing doctoral research.

His family isn't that much better. Mom and Dad, to prove they aren't too outclassed by their gifted child, are in the habit of dropping arcane quotes cribbed from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations in a manner that conclusively demonstrates they don't know what they are talking about. They also exhibit more than a smattering of the classic crank syllogism: "Galileo was persecuted, Darwin was vilified, Newton was not understood, all of them were right; I am ignored, vilified and misunderstood, therefore I am right too."

Mom considers herself a cultural maven because she categorically rejects rock and roll and knows that Chopin was Polish. However, the paintings on the walls are so bad they make 'Dogs Playing Poker' look like Landseer. She lies to her younger son by telling him he is just as special and gifted in music when he stumbles over the opening phrases of Debussy's Clair de Lune on the piano, then proceeds to inform him that having a genius brother is a "lifetime commitment."

When Dad, (William Hurt, out-mumbling David Duchovny in this film), who is in the insurance business, makes a rather gentle dinner table explanation of the value of what he does, (probably motivated by some understandable insecurity), Clive accuses him of "lying to his family." Instead of clonking the ungrateful jackass on the head, (that comes later and for the wrong reason), and reminding him that his food, shelter, clothing, guitar, amps, grass, bong money and so forth is provided by Dad's "lying" profession, (Clive obviously is too brilliant to work), it is DAD who leaves the table and says something conciliatory.

Younger brother is constantly patronized by Clive but is even-tempered to the point of idiocy, actually thanking him for "taking him" on an outing with Clive's lover and Clive's beard, where they laugh at him for not understanding Hungarian and dose him with a small sugar cookie laced with so little grass that he can't taste it. (A Pomeranian would be hard pressed to catch a buzz but brother blisses out.) To be fair, little brother does get to sleep with the beard, (who looks remarkably healthy for someone who lives behind the basement furnace and subsists almost exclusively on citrus fruit -- although her diet would preclude scurvy one still would expect a Dickensian waif living in the slums of London sewing silk flowers by candlelight until her eyesight fails), but this fluid transfer occurs unexpectedly and well after the "thanks" are tendered.

The most untenable thing about this movie is that I think we are supposed to care about these people and feel bad when Clive dies of AIDS. I must be heartless because I wished those stupid wings we see at the beginning and end had snapped off and that he had crashed and burned right from the start.

Hilary Swank should stick to fisticuffs.


* Solution (sketch): (fg)' = f'g + fg' = f'g' --> f'g = (f'-f)g' --> g'/g = f'/(f'-f) = -2xf(/(-2xf-f) = 2x/(1+2x) since f=/=0. Now note that g'/g is the logarithmic derivative of abs(g) and integrate both sides. (The interesting mathematical content raised by this problem is determining necessary and sufficient conditions on f such that a solution, g, exists. Clearly f=exp(R(x)), R(x)=p(x)/q(x), p(x),q(x) e F{X}, q=/=0, (p,q)=1 will work, but that's just an obvious generalization of the original problem.)
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needs more intensity
SnoopyStyle22 June 2016
It's 1973 Cleveland, Ohio. Wannabe intelligentsia Messerman parents (William Hurt, Rita Wilson) throw out the TV. Their son Clive (David Call) is a math genius. He excels in competition but seems to be growing distant. He speaks in a secret language with his friends. His girlfriend Sandra (Michelle Trachtenberg) is secretly living in the basement. His younger brother William (Brett Davern) discovers the secret and starts falling for her.

There is a great reveal ending. The movie simply needs more intensity and tension for the rest of the movie. It needs more drama. Most of this movie is too flat. The acting is fine but they don't get enough to do. The direction is functional. There are possibilities here for great drama but it doesn't really do anything with them. Even the math competition is without drama.
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Remarkable characters in a very intelligent film
ronsmolin8 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I was captivated by all the fine actors in this film that I never knew existed until a 2011 presentation on Showtime. Finally there arrived an intelligent screenplay with a wide assortment of unusual characters assembled into a unique family arrangement along with two friends of the math genius Clive--Sandra and Elliot The most astounding performance was by Brett Davern who shines as the prototypical normal kid facing challenges from his demanding parents and the aloofness shown to him by his older brother, Clive. As William, Brett enraptures the audience with his innocence and his driving desires to make love to Clive's girlfriend Sandra, played by Michelle Trachtenberg, who always plays her roles in a brilliant fashion. William finally achieves a most perfect sexual union with Sandra and we all can appreciate his joy. Brett Davern has a sparkle in his eye throughout the film, and lights up every scene he's in.

Clive represents a mysterious youth. speaking to his friend Elliot in a foreign language unknown to any of the characters. Clive, Elliot and Sandra hang out and smoke dope and play guitars.Eventually, William gains acceptance and the four of them produce a very unusual team.

William Hurt and Rita Wilson are the boys' parents and add a quirkiness to the film that's much appreciated by this viewer. They perform wonderfully.

Now this film takes place in the 1970s, in the era of AIDS, and out of the blue the genius Clive and his friend Elliot are discovered caressing each other naked in the basement. His so-called liberal father slaps him hard, as the audience is really shocked by this last-minute development. Of course, we now understand that the secret language between the boys (a love poem in Hungarian)reflects the secrecy of being gay in that time period. Whether Clive is bi-sexual or merely uses Sandra as a beard is not known.

If the film has any fault, it is the fact that the viewers would like to have seen another 20 or 30 minutes of plot development. Instead, we are presented with a penultimate scene many years in the future in which Clive is dying of AIDS with his family at his bedside.

It is quite a touching scene, but without any plot to cover the missing years, we are left a bit empty.

Finally, Clive is married with two children and discovers quite by chance his brother's secret language.

I'm sorry so few people have seen the film. It's about intelligent people filmed for an intelligent audience, which unfortunately is quite rare these days.
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Beautiful Ohio, Beautiful Movie
bintensern28 October 2006
This was a wonderful Movie. I saw the preview the preview in a special fund raiser in Cleveland for the Arts. I Can't wait till it is in wide distribution so that I can see it again. Chad Lowe the director and producer has brought humor, meaning, emotion, and depth to flaming. The actors are superb. William Hurt and Rita Wilson are excellent and make this movie time well spent. Julianne Marguilies is surprisingly charming in this role. The new actors are very good and I know they will have an excellent future. It was an emotional and compelling movie that kept me enthralled from the moment it started to the surprising end.
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Beautiful Ohio
jboothmillard12 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The bigger thing about seeing this independent film was that I saw it at the 22nd Santa Barbara Film Festival while on a college trip, I had a fantastic time. Oh and after the film finished people in the audience could ask questions to the director, Chad Lowe, and star Brett Davern. Anyway, the film is a family-based film with a lot of talking about life in general, as well as other people's thought's and opinions. The main stars, and who are stealing the show from the teenagers, are the parents, Simon (Lost in Space's William Hurt) and Judith (Jingle All the Way's Rita Wilson) Messerman. The main plot seems to be involving the teenage brothers William (Davern) and Clive (David Call). Clive seems to be speaking what is an unknown language, and William is trying to find the "dictionary" with all words and meanings. The big twists towards the end though are that Clive and his best friend are gay, and that the language is in fact Hungarian, and the "dictionary" is in fact a poem. Also starring Inspector Gadget's Michelle Trachtenberg as Sandra, Ghost Ship's Julianna Margulies as Mrs. Cubano, Matt Servitto as Mr. Cubano, Hale Appleman as Elliot and Justin Matthews as Marty. Good!
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Beautiful Ohio, Stinker of A Picture *
edwagreen28 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A mathematical genius and his family are all what this dreadful film is all about.

Mom acts intellectual by correcting her son's grammar and playing Chopin. Dad talks a good intellectual game but he has so little material to work with here.

Our genius has a girlfriend who has been secretly living in the basement of his house for a year. By film's end, the mother of the genius claims she knows all about this.

William Hurt, as the father, mumbles his way through the film talking in a continuous monotonous tone.

Our genius has quite a surprise for us years later. Am sure it had nothing to do with the fact that his younger brother was interested in the girlfriend. Who would be interested in this all together?

Julianne Margulies of "The Good Wife" fame has dinner with her husband in two scenes. She is loud and has really nothing to say or add to this mess of a film. How fortunate for her.
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Really okay, but not immediately obviously so. V1.02
annevejb13 May 2010
It took more than one viewing for me to really like this. First viewing, first ten minutes, it felt too weak to have reached DVD distribution. Then it picked up but it took special circumstances for me to watch it a second time.

The second time, to me that was okay. The third and fourth viewings it was really okay.

The start of the film felt way too high brow. Repeated viewing say no, that is just the family with parents that enjoy that approach. Pseudo high brow? Not really, but the kids need a different mix.


Around the same time I was also watching 17 Again, a big-ish budget Zac Efron that is widely respected, and I actually prefer Beautiful Ohio.

I find 17 Again to have a lot of amazing details and sequences, way above this story for that. Just this one seems to flow better. No little chunks of boredom among all of the detail. They can both be understood as considering traps that people used to fall into, still do, and both feel to be worthwhile and very different to each other, just I can now like Beautiful Ohio all the way through.

17 Again is mostly high quality in a range of different ways, this is quality in rather different ways.
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Is the sound quality an issue for anyone?
sazesa30 September 2021
The plot of the movie is nothing extraordinary. In fact, it may even be interesting, but I couldn't be certain because the sound track seems to have been inverted, with the background noise in the film drowning out the characters' speeches. This technical issue was terribly frustrating for me, and I wonder if this was an issue in the original release.
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