Review: Sara Paxton Steals the Show From Mischa Barton in "The Beautiful Life"

In the stylish new CW series The Beautiful Life, (premiering September 16 on the CW), Mexican actress Sara Paxton, 21, plays Raina Collins, the modeling world’s newest “It” girl. The OC’s Mischa Barton stars as Sonja Stone, a former “It” girl who has been replaced. Isn’t it funny how life imitates art?

TBL, which is executive produced by Ashton Kutcher, is supposed to be Barton’s star vehicle (she’s gotten a lot of media attention for what is supposed to be her triumphant return to television years after leaving Fox’s The OC), but the real star is the fierce and fantastic Paxton.

We get our first look at Paxton’s character Raina in the opening minutes of the show’s pilot, where her character is backstage with a wardrobe assistant getting ready to hit the runway at a Zac Posen show during Fashion Week 2009. She's up next, and she looks nervous. This is Raina's first show, and the girl who goes on right before her—a seasoned model named Marrisa Delfina (a very good Ashley Madekwe)—is already out there strutting her stuff so fearlessly that it makes Raina even more self-conscious and scared. But when she finally makes it to the stage, Raina turns on like a lamp that just got a new light-bulb. We then get a close-up in freeze frame of her big beautiful blue eyes (which exude confidence and scream: “I’m the next Cameron Diaz”), and it’s abundantly clear that she isn’t scared of shiz. Raina stomps on that runway like A-Rod stomps the yard at Yankee Stadium, adding charm, confidence, poise, charisma, and grace, and everyone in the audience takes notice. Backstage, someone gushes: “What a star!”

Meanwhile, we’re several minutes into TBL and we still haven’t gotten our first look at “the star” of the show, Mischa Barton as Sonja. She is late for the Posen show—very late—which prompts Marissa and the other models to talk trash about her behind her back, with Marissa saying, “Smells like rehab to me.” Then, finally, the show cuts to Sonja, and we see Barton for the first time, looking distraught, and popping pills. Sonja doesn’t smile at all, and it’s obvious she’s done one too many modeling shows to care about this one. From the moment we see her, she is as gorgeous as she was during her days on The OC, with her big raccoon eyes revealing a sadness that seems all too real.

When her character Sonja finally arrives at the Posen event, she doesn’t fit into her dress (it wasn’t fitted properly because Sonja wasn’t around to try it on—she’s been more than a little irresponsible lately), and Posen, needing a quick replacement, taps Raina for the role. “Her!” he yells pointing at Raina from across the room and surprising everyone with his choice. Raina gets to wear the best dress in his collection, an elegant, lavish red gown. When she hits the runway again wearing this number, she gets a standing ovation and instantly becomes the envy of every model in New York. Sonja, meanwhile, leaves angry.

I don’t want to pretend like Barton isn’t great on TBL, because she is. She’s always been good at playing characters who are too cool for school, and she does that here quite brilliantly. She also manages to inject a lot of heart into Sonja, a girl who is obviously very down on her luck, and possibly has a child to take care of that no one knows about. Then there’s actor Ben Hollingsworth, who adds charm to the series as Chris Andrews, an idealistic, young model from Iowa who is new to modeling and develops a friendship (which will inevitably blossom into a romance) with Raina. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a scene with Raina and Chris that is so sexy I thought I was watching skinemax for a moment! Chuck and Blair have got nothing on these two!

Hollingsworth and Barton make for excellent supporting characters, but the truly great performance here is Paxton’s, who is TBL: To be loved.