Film Review: Best and Most Beautiful Things

The best film about being blind this critic has ever seen, particularly fortuitous in its “star,” a quirky, heart-melting gamine you will never forget.
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I doubt that there will be a more emotionally wrenching scene this film year than a brief sequence in Garrett Zevgetis‘ new documentary, Best and Most Beautiful Things. In it, Michelle, the film’s subject, sits, unwillingly and uninvolved, at her brother’s high-school basketball game, completely miserable. At first blush, this may not seem such a crisis, but the salient facts of the matter are that she is legally blind, suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and, in the scene which precedes this moment, has begged her parents not to make her go to support her brother, as the experience will be a futile, obnoxious void for her, unable to see the game (as if she cared in the first place) and only registering gratingly loud crowd noises. We watch her enter the gymnasium, having acceded to family pressures of “togetherness”, disoriented and bewildered, as she makes her way to her seat amid the deafening noise, and then viscerally feel the pain of her boredom, isolation and sheer unhappiness, stuck there for the next two endless hours or so. Besides being heartbreaking, the scene is also the most effective onscreen rendering of what it really must be like to be blind that I have ever seen.  

Zevgetis, searching for a sufficiently uplifting project, found Michelle in the Perkins School for the Blind, in Boston. Actually, she found him, for in her marvelously unstoppable way this young girl, eager for life and independence, had once more jumped at a chance. The director truly struck gold, for she is an elfinly pretty, hyper-intelligent and completely original individual, naturally funny, warm and touching. Like any smart girl, she loves the TV show “Daria,” but, as she says, she never just likes all the girly things seemingly so appropriate to her age and gender, she obsesses over them, like this brainy cartoon, plus anime, dolls and cats. The movie was shot over a period which took Michelle from her late teens to her early 20s, at which point her tastes decidedly change, and, always deliciously unpredictable, she gets into sexual domination fantasies, abetted by her first boyfriend, who is, happily, equally nerdy, a kinkster like her (as she calls it) and highly agreeable.

The two plan on attending a BDSM convention, blithely overriding the concern of her rather hapless divorced mom, but this is not the only adventure on Michelle’s heretofore quite limited horizon. The production company behind “Rugrats” in Los Angeles has sent feelers out to her, with a possible internship as a voice actress. This, of course, would mean her moving to the West Coast from her cozy if fractured home in Bangor, Maine, and arouses all sorts of emotions among not only her family, but her local aides and teachers (one of them blind himself), whom Michelle complains about condescendingly babying her too much.

Throughout the film, I kept flashing on Bette Davis’ Now, Voyager, with its tale of a too-sheltered daughter of an overbearing mother, struggling to find her own identity and way in life. The difference here is that Michelle’s mother, while overprotective, seems much more fragile, however physically all right, than her feisty “little girl” she wants to keep as such, in the understandable, if stifling, impulse to protect her from an evil, hostile world. Indeed, we have already been informed of the severe and incredibly cruel, fathomless bullying Michelle encountered in her school, which only makes one wonder who the “handicapped” really are.

L.A., if not the dominatrix thing, seems a pipe dream at best, given the harsh reality. But what makes this film inspiring is the dogged determination and embrace of life, however unfair, of its subject. Unlike most physically blessed, far-more-advantaged-in-every-way folk, Michelle is, as she says, happy in herself and her extremely catholic interests, with a mission of changing what’s commonly (and lazily) perceived as “normal.” She is truly a living embodiment of the Helen Keller quotation which first inspired Zevgetis’ glowing project: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched; they must be felt with the heart.”

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