Nothing quite sums up Beastly as a scene midway through the movie when Lindy Taylor, the film’s romantic lead as played by Vanessa Hudgens, finally gets a good look at the “deformed” face of the beast she has been made captive of. Looking at the scars, tattoos and piercings that mark up the young man’s face, she responds, “I’ve seen worse.”
And it’s true — when it comes to adaptations of Beauty and the Beast, there have been much worse than the recently released version that takes the classic French fairy tale and transposes it to a modern-day New York high school — bringing with it all the teenage angst and petty drama that comes with being a teen movie and having an unpleasantly loose grip on the original story’s morality lessons.
Beastly isn’t quite the Twilight-version of Beauty and the Beast but it’s a film that will be best enjoyed by the same shallow-headed, jenkem-huffing teenage dimwits that made Stephenie Meyer a butt-load of money.
Alex Pettyer stars in Beastly as Kyle Kingson, an obnoxious, looks-driven young man who not only revels in his shallow behavior — he makes it his one-note philosophy. It’s this focus on aesthetics that causes Alex to anger a classmate (Mary-Kate Olsen) with his student body campaign stump speech built on the idea that ugly people suck and attractive people have every right to walk over them at every available opportunity. As it turns out, though, Olsen’s character isn’t just a grossly misinformed caricature of a teenage goth girl — she’s also a witch and curses the young man to an extended period of time spent as an ugly teenager. Alex is doomed to remain that way unless he can earn himself a declaration of love from a girl.
Instead of turning into your average pimply-faced, gawky teenager, though, Kyle is made into the post-MTV generation’s version of ugly-chic. With a bald head, a smattering of scars, multiple tree-themed tattoos running along his torso and neck, and a dash of piercings, Kyle looks more like your average bouncer at an underground dance club than a truly terrifying beast. Having retained his cut body and piercing eyes, Kyle ignores the fact that over a single weekend he could easily hook up with a Suicide Girl wannabe with low self-confidence, and instead casts himself into self-seclusion — slinking away into a private apartment paid for by the vanity-obsessed father (Peter Krause) who refuses to look at his newly less-than-perfect son.
Instead of singing teacups or clocks, Beastly‘s beast shacks up with a pair of sassy confidants. Neil Patrick Harris plays the blind tutor to Kyle — lending sage wisdom to the young man about being more than his disability. Lisa Gay Hamilton is Magda, the maid to the Kingsbury family who is assigned to live with and care for the petulant young beast.
Lindsy is a girl from Kyle’s past that has haunted his memories since the transformation — mainly because of the fact that she unknowingly gushed about the confidence-deprived young man’s finer qualities to his face — unaware that the tatted-up baldie she was speaking to was once the pretty boy that ruled her high school’s hallways. Drawn to her crush on him and attracted by her beauty, Kyle sees her as an easy mark for getting her to profess love and begins to calculate a way to make her fall for him.
Beastly tries its best to follow the traditional storyline of Beauty and the Beast— often to the detriment of its grasp on logic or intelligence. In an effort to maintain the traditional story’s structure and feature a romantic lead that starts off as an unwilling prisoner to the beast before becoming his unconditional lover, the movie shoehorns in a bizarre side-story featuring Lindsy’s father being involved in a drug deal gone wrong that a crime fighting Kyle witnesses and assists in — causing him to demand that Lindsy’s father send his daughter to stay in Kyle’s apartment for her own protection.
Of course, by that point, the film had already hit audiences over the head with the fact that Kyle was falling for his former classmate — using the full gamut of emotional tricks culled from The CW’s primetime soap line-up including sickly sweet romantic stalking sessions set to the tune of Death Cab for Cutie and longing connections built over a shared hatred of parents.
As the two warm up to each other — paving the way for Kyle to completely revamp his inner character — the film’s emotional manipulation becomes even more insulting. Audiences are expected to swoon over the cuteness of the couple’s blossoming romance — ignoring the fact that falling in love with an attractive girl based on nothing but her physical appearance is terrible proof that Kyle has put the importance of looks behind him.
One of Beastly‘s biggest problems is that it has no firm grasp over the passing of time and its accompanying character development. According to the film, Kyle and Vanessa spend nearly a year living together — confined almost 24/7 to a small apartment. Yet, their relationship plays out in the traditional three-act romance formula — ignoring the fact that the increased interaction between the two would accelerate any feelings that may have been percolating inside their pubescent young bodies.
Beastly may have worked better as an hour-long drama on The CW — playing out and developing the romance over the course of a season. By cramming the yearlong teenage courtship into a 95-minute movie, the entire story feels overly artificial — its foundation as shaky and insecure as director Daniel Barnz’ artistic vision. Beastly lacks scope and seems cheaply shot — missing giant swaths of coverage during many of its scenes.
More insulting, though, is the film’s ideas on aesthetic qualities. When Kyle is transformed into a beast — there are no fangs or fur thrown into his appearance. He is given a look that, while not traditionally handsome, would still make plenty of women moisten their panties. I’d be lying if I claimed this “anything outside the norm is hideous” mentality is not completely untruthful of the high school experience but that does not change the fact that Beastly sends a terribly mixed message to young people. While the film does seem to suggest that you can look like a young Jason Voorhees and still pick up chicks, it also constantly reinforces the idea that this “alternative” look is akin to being beaten by the ugly stick when really it’s quite the opposite. There are male super models that spend time and money cultivating the type of look that Kyle spends an entire movie lamenting.
This half-baked ideology is the least of Beastly’s problems, though. A terrible script, cookie-cutter acting and a bubble-gum pop mentality make sure this most recent of Beauty and the Beast adaptations remains a bland, unmemorable blemish on the fairy tale’s legacy — perhaps more suited for a made-for-TV movie for tweens than a major Hollywood project.
Director: Daniel Barnz Notable Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris and Lisa Gay Hamilton Writer(s): Daniel Barnz from a novel of the same name by Alex Flinn
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.