Beastly

by Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

EXPECTATIONS: So it's finally come to this. The Twilight franchise has made so much money that people are dusting off classic fairy tales and adding in that special Stephenie Meyer touch to cash in on the whole thing. I'm not even sure that Beauty and the Beast needs a dark and gritty update in the first place. Didn't they try something like that 20 years ago? Wasn't it basically a Hellboy soap opera? Whatever. If it means means Neil Patrick Harris keeps getting work, then so be it, I guess. Let the Twilightification begin.

REALITY: Okay, I immediately regret that last statement. There is a pretty fine line between movies that are so bad they're good and movies so bad they deserve to be burned. Beastly toes that line for a while, but then quickly takes a flying leap into the furnace. It's the kind of made-for-TV movie that sitcoms like to mock; the kind you laugh at and say "That's hilarious, no one in their right mind would ever make that." Well, someone made one of those movies.

Beastly chronicles the sordid tale of Kyle (Alex Pettyfer), a popular high school jerkbag who won the genetic lottery and loves taunting those around him with how perfect he is. As the film opens, Kyle is running for class president on the "Being awesome is awesome" platform. He even hassles the class witch (Mary Kate Olsen), so she puts a curse on him that turns him into a tattooed, scarred and hairless circus freak. He has one year to convince someone to fall in love with him or else he's stuck looking like a death metal bassist for life. With the help of his equally image-obsessed father (Peter Krause), Kyle leaves school and locks himself away in a plush New York penthouse with his live-in Jamaican nanny and a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) who never seems to do anything. Add into this Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), a classmate of Kyle's who A) was already attracted to Kyle before his facelift and B) is forced to live with him in order to hide from her father's drug dealer. They fall in love and everyone lives happily ever after.

Being a beast basically means you have a lot of cuts and tattoos all over your face. And no eyebrows.

I hope I didn't spoil the ending for you. If you really don't know how Beauty and the Beast ends, I'm sorry, but I don't think I know any insults for a first-grade reading level. Wait, yes I do: You're a stupidface who eats boogers.

There's really nothing wrong with Beastly as a story. That is all the praise I'm willing to give this film. I mean, updating Beauty and the Beast for a modern teenage audience? Okay, I'll accept that. There have been worse ideas. As a screenplay and a film, however, Beastly is absolutely horrible. Writer/director Daniel Barnz shifts the point of view from the beauty to the beast, so we're forced to watch Kyle sit and mope about how ugly he is for a majority of the film. There's none of that traditional Beauty and the Beast sense of discovery as our lead learns about that mysterious person in the shadows. Instead, there's "I'm a monster!" and "Ooh, I've got a girl in my attic, maybe she'll love me..." Motivations? Lessons? Nuance? Who needs that crap when we can just skip straight to brooding?

Nearly everyone in this film comes off as either embarrassing or embarrassed to be there. Alex Pettyfer (also currently infecting multiplexes in I Am Number Four) lets the makeup do all the acting for him, and as a result never emotes anything beyond 'kinda gross looking.' I wish I could comment on Vanessa Hudgens' performance, but she's never given a chance to perform. She pops in and out of a few scenes, says her lines, smiles at the camera and then goes about her business like she's part of the background. It's really not her fault, either. It's the movie; Beastly doesn't care a single bit about Lindy as a character. She's the girl, she's pined after, that's enough. Olsen twin A doesn't fare any better. Her character is labeled a witch, when she's closer to Lady Gaga, Harbinger of Ugliness and Doom. Aside from the lone act of witchcraft, she doesn't do or say anything to give her character any depth.

You know what? That's the real problem with this film. None of the characters have any depth. We only know what we're told about them and rarely, if ever, does anyone get the chance to grow as a character. It's ironic, given the theme of the movie. Beastly had the chance to explore the whole "beauty is only skin deep" concept, but then throws it away in lieu of having the terrible person with rad biker scars fall in love with the girl who's perfect both inside and out. He could've just as easily fallen in love with a less-than-attractive girl who was otherwise everything anyone could ask for, which is what conventional wisdom would tell most screenwriters. Barnz decided to take the path less traveled, which is only less-traveled because everyone else knows not to. You don't vilify your main character five seconds in and then spend 90 minutes giving him everything he wants.

I could almost forgive the lazy writing if the scene-to-scene narrative work were at least passable. Typically, we'll get to see the dramatic tension between two characters develop between the conflict and the resolution. Beastly jumps straight from plot point to plot point with absolutely nothing connecting the two. Kyle wants to tell Lindy how much he loves her, so he writes her a fifty-page love letter by hand on what looks like parchment and wrapping paper and just whatever he could find to write on. Then she tells him how great he is before getting on a train and leaving. THEN we see him moping some time later in his apartment, which he had at some point trashed in a fit of despair. Probably. Who's to say he's the one who did it? Burglars could have broken in and had a fistfight with Neil Patrick Harris. We don't know. There's a scene missing somewhere, and I can only guess as to what's going on because the film doesn't have the narrative strength to give us any clues. In that way, I guess it is kinda like the Twilight movies.

Beastly is a movie I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. Maybe Professor Clumsy, but not my worst enemy. It's an idiotic excuse for a fairy-tale romance, and I'm actually sort of offended that something this poorly conceived made it to theaters. With the choppy pacing and soap-opera acting, this is something that would feel more at home on basic cable. The act breaks might even make more sense with commercials in between.

Cast2/10
Script0/10
Romance0/10
NPH Quotient2/10
Fifth CategoryFuck this movie
Overall4/50

MINORITY REPORT: I've decided that of all Twilight's crimes against humanity, spawning this legion of Hot Topic-bred, fairy-tale warping, deep, tormented broodfest imitators is the most egregious. When Stephenie Meyer is brought into literary trial, I believe this movie should be submitted as evidence. - Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider

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