There has been a trend recently that has seen classic fairy tales being adapted, often with new, modern twists. While this is not a bad idea in itself, it seems that this trend is skipping along, arm in arm, with another trend in not only the movie business, but the entertainment industry as a whole: almost everything is being aimed at 13-year old girls. Beastly is the latest product of that union.
Beastly, as you can probably guess, is a new take on Beauty and the Beast. In this case, we get a modern retelling of the tale, with several plot points that mirror the now classic Disney animated version (though the alternate ending supplied in the Special Features has a moment that, shockingly, pays homage to the even more classic 1946 Jean Cocteau film). However, Beastly not only makes the decision to set its tale in a modern, urban setting, but to attempt to ground it in reality. This is a mistake. Why, you ask? Well, simply because it leads to all kinds of logic-defying moments and paper-thin character motivations which I will address shortly.
The film opens at a super posh New York private school so modern and sterile that it could be a set from THX 1138. There we meet Kyle, a big man on campus so douchey that he makes the mean girls from Mean Girls look like Taylor Swift (the version with the glasses). We meet Kyle making his election speech for president of the Green Club. He announces to the gathered students that he has no interest in the Green Club, but it will look good on his transcript but they should elect him anyway because he is rich, good-looking, and his dad is super famous. He also goes on a bit about how ugly people suck and I think may have even referred to the students assembled as “pizza faces”, though I admit I may have been dreaming. Anyway, as expected the speech is met with rousing cheers and unanimous support. That is how douchey and popular Kyle is.
Kyle is played by boy-doll of the moment Alex Pettyfer, a young Brit actor whose acting is so stiff that I’m surprised his knees can bend, but is, to use my all-time favourite Stephanie Meyer quote, “wits-scramblingly beautiful”. The object of his affection is Lindy, who is played by Vanessa Hudgins, another product of the amazing looks/limited talent vault that Disney seems to have unlimited access to.
Kyle meets Lindy during the elections, where she is firmly established as an outsider at their school; a scholarship girl from a poor neighborhood who has spent three years avoiding Kyle’s radar, presumably because she’s poor and unpopular and actually cares about things like the environment. One of my all-time favourite things is when Hollywood tries to pass off incredibly good-looking movie stars as losers, like in any movie where Kate Hudson or Jennifer Aniston can’t get a man. I can’t get enough of that. But anyway, at the elections, Kyle notices Lindy and seems vaguely intrigued by her. And then he runs afoul of the school witch. I call her that because that is the way she is referred to by the other characters. Not as the local goth chick, or that emo chick, but as the “witch”. She is played by Mary-Kate Olsen in a brilliant bit of stunt-casting that works so well I find it hard to imagine the girl doing anything but this kind of role from now on.
Things swing into high gear when Kyle plays a “prank” on the witch that basically takes the form of, “Hey unattractive girl, I feel bad for being mean to you. Let me make it up to you by taking you to the dance”, followed by her showing up and him saying “Haha, you are dumb. Why would I ever ask you to the dance, for you are not good-looking and also unpopular”. Say what you will about the hooligans in Carrie, at least they knew how to play a creative and elaborate prank on an unpopular girl. Because of the “prank”, the witch puts a curse on Kyle, condemning him to be ugly and deformed forever unless he can make someone fall in love with him within the year. Here is another place the film falls down. The filmmakers can’t actually make Pettyfer “ugly-ugly”. You don’t want to alienate your core demographic. So what we get is kind of a bald, badass biker look, with lots of tattoos and piercings, plus a couple of always-fresh facial scars for that sexy, emo look. I guess the message here is that the more elaborate the prank, the harsher the punishment; Carrie’s tormentors died gruesome deaths while Kyle is transformed into the front man for a nu-metal band.
Kyle’s father, a network anchor played by Peter Krause, takes him to the doctor, who can’t do anything to fix the boy’s looks. Nobody, by the way, seems to question exactly what it is that’s happened to Kyle’s face. I’m not sure if they just buy into the curse thing or if they think he has some disease. It is never addressed. Dad’s solution is to buy an apartment on the other side of the city where he can hide his deformed progeny.
The new apartment is the perfect setting for Kyle to lurk about and sulk over his condition, his only company being their wise Jamaican housekeeper and Neil Patrick Harris as a blind tutor. Is it just me or do middle-aged Jamaican ladies give a lot of wisdom to dumb white folks in the movies? As for Harris, he is a breath of fresh air, but I couldn’t help asking myself, what is he doing in this movie? Here’s an actor that is popular, talented, with more charisma than any of the leads, and he’s relegated to standing in for the talking candle from the Disney cartoon.
Anyway, after a heavily contrived twist involving Lindy’s drug-addicted Dad and perhaps the least threatening drug-dealers in movie history, she ends up in the apartment. For her protection. After that the movie goes pretty much exactly as you would predict, with Kyle growing into a decent human being and the girl slowly falling in love with him over jujy fruits and bad emo poetry.
Though the whole production has the feel of a TV movie or even a pilot (the kind of thing that the networks would pair up with Gossip Girl), there are a few nice visual touches, lending a certain lyricism to some of the scenes. The ever-changing tree tattoo on Kyle’s forearm, for example, gives a nice indication of the time remaining to him before his curse becomes permanent. There are also some nice-looking scenes in the greenhouse Kyle builds on the roof of their building.
But overall the production is uninspired, edgeless fare that never tries to be more than bland entertainment for undiscriminating young girls. You’re much better off going out and re-watching the 1991 Disney version. How ironic that a 20-year old cartoon has better dialogue and more convincingly realistic characters than this modern, “grounded in reality” version of the classic tale.
Despite the shortcomings of the film itself, this disc looks really nice. Presented in 2.35:1, the movie has a very clean transfer with excellent detail through almost every scene. Colors are vivid and very natural, especially Kyle’s tattoos and the lush, flower-filled setting of the greenhouse later in the film. Detail does suffer a bit in the dark scenes, with blacks coming off a bit inky and details getting murky. However, if a scene is well-lit, it generally looks gorgeous, with natural skin tones and nice little details apparent all over the place.
The audio, while not as stellar as the video presentation, is decent with only a few things to complain about. It is presented in 5.1 DTS HD MA, and while the dialogue is quite clear coming out of the center channel, it is occasionally drowned out a bit by ambient sound, requiring the viewer to strain a bit to hear the words clearly. The surrounds are put to nice use in the busier scenes, but this film is mainly composed of quiet moments with characters engaging in one on one conversation, so this is an infrequent effect.
Automatic Trailers: Priest, Soul Surfer, Jumping the Broom, Insidious, Just Go With It, The Back-Up Plan
Alternate Ending (10:13): This ending does have a few things going for it. It does feature the previously mentioned homage to the Cocteau version, and almost gives Kyle a Quasimodo moment, though he never quite gets chased by torch-wielding villagers/students. However, it is clear why they went with the ending they did use, as much of the action here takes place over the phone and involves the silly drug-dealer from earlier in the film to hike up the tension.
Deleted Scenes (4:47): There are three scenes, and none are really worth watching.
A Classic Tale Retold: The Story of Beastly (10:09): This is the usual featurette we get on these projects, though I was surprised to learn that the hunky Pettyfer is a Brit.
Creating the Perfect Beast (5:07): Another short featurette going through the creation of Kyle’s make-up.
“Be Mine” Music Video by Katrina and the Dolls (3:04): Music video. There are clips from Beastly in it. That’s about it. Oh, and Katrina is looking pretty good since getting rid of the Waves.
If you’re a tween girl or have no problem ignoring bad acting, clumsy writing, or ham-handed filmmaking, then by all mean rent or even purchase Beastly. Let me put it this way, if you love the Twilight movies, you’ll have no problem with this. However, if you are not a tween girl and are looking for something in a movie outside of staring at hotties, your money would best be spent elsewhere.