NOT A BEAUTY
Review by Maria Markosov
One of my favorite words in the English language is the word “Beast”. It’s a delicious word that makes a strong impression. And that is all about the film “Beastly” that makes a strong impression. Adapted from the story of The Beauty and the Beast into a book written by Alex Flynn and subsequently a screenplay written by Daniel Barnz, Kyle Kingsbury, played by Brit import Alex Pettyfer, is a good-looking narcissist attending a neo-elitist high school in Manhattan and must learn humility when he offends a high school witch, played by Mary Kate Olsen. She takes her revenge with a bit of black magic and transforms him into a bald, scarred and tattooed ‘freak’ and sets him loose. He can only be turned back to normal when he can find a girl to tell him she loves him. He leaves high school and his father, an equally shallow prick played by Peter Krause, abandons him to his own private condo, leaving him a blind tutor, played by Neil Patrick Harris, and their Jamaican housekeeper, played by Lisa Gay Hamilton. Before his transformation, Kyle never betrays a kind moment. Despite Kyle’s arrogant and mean personality, miraculously Lindy, a girl at school played by Vanessa Hudgens, supposedly sees ‘something’ inside him, and we’re talking DEEP inside him that no one else has seen, including himself. Not sure what message that sends to teens and young adults that if you just try not to notice the abusive behavior, maybe there’s some grain of goodness deep down.
This is where movies can be smarter and where the ‘before’ could have at least shown us Kyle’s background. Maybe even if we understood his home life better. But the movie inconsiderately shows us no relatable storylines or characters and nothing real. We are to believe that Lindy lives in a bad neighborhood and feeds homeless people, yet never developed a New York attitude or style and amazingly maintains a hairstyle straight out of a Beverly Hills salon. It even asks us to accept a ridiculous but convenient plot point where Lindy’s father must send her away to live with Kyle in order to protect her and to avoid incarceration. Despite all the false notes, the dramatic stuff has so much potential. There is a scene where the beast Kyle discovers Lindy has put their picture, which was taken from a party before Kyle was transformed, on the desktop of her computer. Then he proceeds to grill her with questions about how she feels about this “Kyle” from school. A scene like this could have had a lot of romance, intrigue, humor and charm in the right hands. Though poetry is used generously in the film, the movie feels like a left-brain calculation of a right brain story.
‘Beastly’ was both directed and written by Daniel Barnz, and yet there is no subtlety, and the moments that should have heart and sweetness come off contrived and formulaic in an obvious way. As far as Kyle’s bewitchment is concerned, he looks so much more interesting as the beast that when he eventually transforms back, I missed the beast. Watching the filmmaking team’s decision-making process about what kind of look the beast would have would probably be much more fascinating than watching the movie. Pettyfer’s beast is body art, and the lines and scars accentuate and contour his features in ways that are appealing and appear like they could be an art project of something Mary Kate Olsen’s witch would have drawn in her notebook.
Neil Patrick Harris, a deft and entertaining actor, does his best to provide some wit and life to the otherwise contrived and graceless movie. The one and only charming moment of the film takes place at a dinner table when Harris pours himself a glass of water and feigns to keep pouring the water past the limit to provoke Kyle to stop him. Cute. And sadly cuter than anything that occurs between the two leads. Pettyfer and Hudgens are eye candy enough, but were not given time to cultivate any nuance or passion in their roles. Their love for each other is unconvincing. They have little chemistry, which is disappointing because there is little else to enjoy in a movie like this other than the sexy pairing of attractive young leads.
Mary Kate Olsen steps in every once in a while but the choice to have her dressed in commercialized goth, chronically pissed off and portraying a forced sexiness, while filming her as if she were in an 80s hair band rock music video, didn’t serve the film. Also even though Kyle kept calling her fat and ugly, she was the opposite – she looked as if she were in a high fashion ad, so this was confusing. For the character, it would have been nice to see a less obvious choice, such as a bookworm or even another popular girl. Why not? But goth girl, yet another unimaginative choice. This picture was a wasted opportunity to tell a very sweet and classic tale in a modern setting.
Directed by: Daniel Barnz
Release Date: March 4, 2011
Run Time: 86 minutes
Distributor: CBS Films