By: Mary Lan
Beastly, a modernized version of the classic Beauty and the Beast, is a must-see movie if you’re a fan of something like Twilight clashed together with TV show How I Met Your Mother and presented as a live-action Disney channel movie. Fantasy romance seems to be a very promising genre, but this latest affair is a poor example.
In a city far, far away called New York, handsome, vain Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) is the prince of his high school domain. Good casting based on looks should be commended, by the way, because nothing less than a chiseled male model could pull off those obnoxiously contrived one-liners. After insulting teen witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), Kyle is given a chance to show that beneath the jerk surface may be a sensitive, insecure soul. He is cursed to be “ugly” and given one year to have someone say “I love you” to him lest he remain “ugly” forever. Now, the reason “ugly” is in quotes is because in all honesty, he became the underground rocker kind of chiseled male model. (And Pettyfer seemed to think so too, because his reaction to his character’s transformation was three monotonous “no’s” and staring at his reflection in a fascinated sort of way.)
Moving on to the second part of the curse, where he needs to find someone to love him. This is the perfect set-up for charity case Libby (Vanessa Hudgens) to get stalked–er–noticed by the former hot, popular jerk. She is then forced by a very hurried deus ex machina to live with Kyle in the unrecognizable home where he is now hidden from the world. Also cast away to this place of exile is a sympathetic Jamaican housekeeper and Neil Patrick Harrison, who shows up as a blind tutor to crack unexpected jokes. These two characters were a breath of fresh air filling in the otherwise slow story.
On the romantic-comedy level, romance is awkward and fleeting, while comedy is prevalent throughout the story. There isn’t even much of a balance; whenever there is a spark of romance, it gets shot down by a type of comedy that just does anything imaginable to ruin the moment. Without spoiling any unexpected punch lines, I will reveal that the sappier lines deserve a cringe. You almost have to feel sorry for Hudgens, who is given material such as “I guess this cage set me free” or poor Pettyfer, who says with such feeling: “I thought I’d take the ugly thing and turn it into something…not.” Good lines are not supposed to be noticeable–they’re supposed to be natural, forgotten, and definitely not remembered as lines spoken as lines. Ditto for when Pettyfer lapses into a British accent.
Despite the strange choice of words, there are many subtle artistic takes to applaud, especially the parallels to the classic Disney movie, from Kyle breaking a mirror to the twist in showcasing Kendra’s curse as an ever-changing tattoo. Some choices felt a little overdramatic, however, like Kendra’s witchy wardrobe of capes and mile-high stilettos, or Kyle’s–literally–leaping to Libby’s rescue (not to mention climbing and clawing).
All in all, what is most distressing about this movie is that there is no lesson. From the beginning, it is easily predictable that the theme is about beauty being skin deep. But as the movie progresses, the main character girl, Libby, remains the same. There is no change in her: she acts as a prop for Kyle to woo with Jujyfruits and roses. Kyle does go through some sort of hero’s journey, which is pretty interesting, for a chick flick. Yet in the end, Beastly does not accomplish what it’s supposed to: make the audience sympathetic to lonely, ugly outcasts. Everything in this movie is too shallow, too pretty. There is no touching, memorable moment, no suffering that invokes sympathy.
On a side note: some lines said in the official trailer do not appear in the movie. Yes, the overall concept of the movie based on the trailer was intriguing enough for me to watch it–but then again, it is based off of the book, Beastly, by Alex Flinn. In this adaptation, with a poor script, underdeveloped characters, and suspiciously good-looking cast, my advice is to read the book if you’re looking for a lesson on morality, and watch the movie if you’re looking for a good laugh.