“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is sound advice stating you shouldn’t prejudge the worth of something by its outward appearance alone. CBS Films tackle this metaphor with a new take on an old classic fable in Beastly. Unfortunately, Beastly itself is just as subject to that metaphor as its characters are. Don’t judge this film by its posters…or trailers…or pretty actors.
Beastly is the classic story that we all know now by heart; the story of the beauty and the beast. It’s been done as musicals, plays, animated feature films, been performed on ice, and yes, even a TV show. This time, screenplay writer and director Daniel Barnz has adapted the story for our angsty young teens with an obvious intent on charming the Twihards:
“Seventeen year old Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is the spoiled, shallow and incredibly popular prince of his high school kingdom. Entirely captivated and empowered by his own physical appearance, Kyle foolishly chooses Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), a witch masquerading as a high school student, as his latest target for humiliation. Unfazed by his cruel behavior, Kendra decides to teach him a lesson – she transforms him into someone as unattractive on the outside as he is on the inside. Now he has one year to find someone who can see past the surface and love him, or he will remain “Beastly” forever. His only hope, a quiet classmate he never noticed named Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), may be his best chance to prove that love is never ugly.” — CBS Films
Sound’s cute, right? Honestly, I thought so too when I heard about it. I can tell you that before the opening credits had finished their lazy phase-out, I was ready to punch a certain screenwriter/director in the face. From the start, Kyle’s character is completely unbelievable. His opening speech directed at his high school peers (apparently populated by Abercrombie & Fitch models) is ridiculous, and aimed at showing us just how shallow he is. In one of his lines, he tells ugly people that their life will suck, so “best embrace the suck.” I’m not kidding. But we’ll revisit that in a minute. The next point of total disbelief rests with the ugly witch at the school, played by Mary-Kate. She was only “ugly” if you consider high fashion with a goth-y twist to be ugly. All of her outfits were very runway appropriate, from her fantastic hair and smokey eye makeup to her $2000 studded leather stilettos. Our doe-eyed heroine was just a little too poetic and hopelessly-romantic, and Kyle’s father was just a little too disconnected.
The story felt forced as we watch Beastly try to hit every plot point from the original fable. It seemed as though Barnz was scrambling to find possible contemporary situations and cram them into the scenes, all the while begging the audience to applaud his creativity and fast thinking. (I just want to interject here that I have NOT read the book, but I pray that the film is a loose adaptation.) The situations simply don’t work, and leave you scratching your head and wondering how any of the characters could possibly be believable if they bought in to these scenarios. The most egregious of these is the manner in which Lindy comes to live in Kyle’s house – a subplot involving Kyle blackmailing her addict father into letting him “protect” her after her life is threatened during a drug deal gone wrong. It was so forced that you simply can’t take it seriously.
Probably the worst part of this film is that our ‘beast’ is simply not that beastly. He is more akin to a punk legend or rock star than the grisly and dark being that he should have been. I’ve seen guys scarier than him at the El Torreon on a Tuesday. He sports a few shiny red scars and tribal-esque tattoos, and that’s all she wrote. The makeup artists thought they would get a little cute and hide the word “Beastly” in his back tattoo. If that wasn’t cheesy enough, they actually went one better. Remember that really great quote from the beginning, “Embrace the Suck?” You get to see it tattooed on his face in a faux-Farsi script over each eyebrow through the entire movie. There’s no escaping that irritating collection of words.
The cinematography was what one could expect out of a film like this. Lindy was shot with a glow filter to make her look extra sweet, and Kyle’s transformation moments consisted of shaky camera effects and snaking light trails. Petals fell from roses as the characters read poetry, and montages were choppy in a failed attempt at adding humor. Across the board, the acting was mediocre at best, granted the actors weren’t given much in the way of a quality script. Hudgens’ performance is devoid of any personality, Pettyfer spends most of his time looking pained, and both fell victim to a heavy dose of over-acting. There were a few small saving graces, like the one and only Neil Patrick Harris as our only comic relief. He did the best with what he was given, and delivered a few well timed laughs.
For all the downfalls Beastly has, it is incredibly age appropriate. There’s no sex, no groping, no swearing. In that respect, it actually impressed me. So many of these tween romance movies are less than appropriate anymore, but I can definitely say that you could take your 13 year old daughter and her gaggle of girlfriends to see this film without worry. That is, if you think you can keep from slamming your face repeatedly into the seat in front of you. Upon exiting the theater, I heard someone remark that watching Beastly was like peeling off your face with a rusty tin can lid. Really.
You have to give the filmmakers a little credit for trying to take a new approach at a time honored classic — but if you’re instead reminded of a Freddie Prinze Jr. flick like She’s All That than Beauty and the Beast, it loses it’s purpose. Twihards, beware — Beastly is aiming it’s sights on you. If you’re that desperate to relive this classic tale, you’ll do better to search through your dusty home movie collection.
I give Beastly 1 “Rusty Tin Can Lid” out of 5.