Netflix’s ‘Beautiful Rebel’ Proves Italians Can Make Bad Lesbian Movies Too

The first time I left the U.S. I learned a harsh truth: Not all “foreign films” were like the fascinating works of art I’d spent my adolescence hungrily consuming. Countries all around the world have their own film and TV industries where they make work as empty and mediocre as Hollywood — just with significantly less money.

Most of these films are not exported to the U.S. or far beyond their own countries. If someone wants to watch bad acting and worse writing while scrolling on their phone, they’re unlikely to want to read subtitles. But with the advent of streaming, many of these works have become more widely available. A service like Netflix doesn’t have quality control — they release content and it’s up to us to determine if, say, their new Italian movie about a queer rockstar is a hidden gem or a should be re-hidden slog.

The bad news is Beautiful Rebel, which dropped on Netflix last week, is very squarely the latter. The good news is I sat through it so now you don’t have to.

Based on the life of real-life pansexual rockstar Gianna Nannini, Cinzia TH Torrini’s film follows Gianna from childhood to international stardom. This is a very standard music biopic, hitting all the tropes. We have the overbearing father who wants Gianna to do tennis instead of music. We have the first tastes of success, the disappointments, the moments when Gianna decides she has to take her own approach instead of following the demands of the music industry. We also have the drugs, the spiraling, the emotional outbursts in the recording studio. None of these beats are inherently bad — after all, they happen in real life — but, when not done with any specificity or inventiveness, they become tiresome.

Beautiful Rebel isn’t just unoriginal — it’s also, at times, baffling in its over-the-top choices. This is a movie where a character will say, “I’m a junkie. I’m a prostitute,” with the cadence of the Disney Channel. And then that character will die! I’ll put up with a lot of mediocrity to watch two women kiss, but it’s no fun when the movie approaches itself with the seriousness of a much better drama.

The film also invents the device of a man named Marc, a photographer who seduces Gianna into many drug-related bad decisions. It’s not uncommon for a biopic to consolidate characters or invent ones altogether, but — spoiler alert! — Marc isn’t real. Like not even in the world of the movie itself. The film has a twist a la A Beautiful Mind where Marc was a manifestation of Gianna’s bad thoughts and remaining daddy issues. I almost admire this choice since everything else about the movie is so dull and expected, but I’m not sure the average music biopic wants audiences googling “was Gianna Nannini schizophrenic” if, you know, she wasn’t.

This could have been a movie about Gianna’s relationship with her real-life partner of decades named Carla. Their scenes are the highlight of the film — even if somewhat ruined by corny music. Instead, like so many biopics, in trying to tell every part of a life story, there doesn’t end up being much story at all.

With the release of the supposedly atrocious new Amy Winehouse biopic, people are asking what’s missing from the music biopic genre. Often when a genre feels lifeless, the answer is to look beyond Hollywood — but not always. Beautiful Rebel is just as unwatchable as any of its English-language counterparts. If you want to learn more about Gianna Nannini, read her Wikipedia page. If you want to watch a movie about queer women, there are plenty of better options.

Beautiful Rebel is now streaming on Netflix.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 534 articles for us.

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