Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beastly Lives Down To Its Reputation As A Problematic Reworking Of Beauty And The Beast.

The Good: Moments of performance, Make-up effects
The Bad: Terrible editing/directing, Moments of character, Many of the plot contrivances
The Basics: In retelling the story Beauty And The Beast for the Twilight audience, Beastly makes for a problematically unhip cinematic outing.

My wife loves Disney’s Beauty And The Beast. She loves it so much that when she needs emotional comfort food, she’ll put it on and watch it several times in a single day. She loves Beauty And The Beast so much that despite seeing many previews for Beastly, she really wanted to see it. So, after months of being on the waiting list at our local library to get the DVD in, last night we took in Beastly.

And even my wife thought it was terrible.

Beastly is a modern-day reinterpretation of the classic story Beauty And The Beast. It is clearly attempting to tap into the audience that Twilight (reviewed here!) pioneered a few years ago. Designed to appeal to the teens who have outgrown the Disney Channel, Beastly attempts to tell a fantasy romance story, but never quite lands it. In fact, the film is so choppy in its narrative techniques and direction that almost any chance the movie had to succeed is leeched out of it.

Kyle is an arrogant student at an exclusive school who is running for the President of the Green Committee. He appears to be running unopposed, with only Lindy running for a Green Committee position as Treasurer. At a rally for the election, Kyle promotes himself as simply a good-looking, popular guy who wants the position simply to pad his resume. Kendra, the school witch with a tattoo near her eye, is irked by this and storms out to vandalize Kyle’s campaign posters. Nevertheless, Kyle wins the election and Lindy becomes the Treasurer and the two converse for only the second time in their high school experience at the victory party. At that party, Kyle mocks Kendra, who bewitches him.

Robbed of his good looks, Kyle discovers he is now balled, tattooed and has open sores over several parts of his body. Rejected by his father, Kyle goes into isolation only to walk the streets at night, hooded and hidden from the world. After stalking Lindy for a little while, Kyle follows her on a night when her father gets in trouble looking for a fix. After killing a drug dealer, Lindy’s father is distraught and convinces him to have Lindy move into his apartment for her safety. Hidden from her most of the time, Kyle (going by the name Hunter) still tries to interact with Lindy by bringing her nice things. Despite the efforts of a tutor (Will) and the housekeeper (Zola), being nice does not come easily to Kyle and he works to soften, to break the curse. As time runs out, he tries desperately to get Lindy to fall in love with him, disgusting visage and all.

First, I wanted to like Beastly, I honestly did. I sat down to it with fresh-made popcorn excited because it meant spending more time with my wife, which does not seem to happen as much as it ought to. But, it didn’t take very long before elements of the story, characters and editing began to grate on me so much that I could not stand what I was watching any longer. For me, the editing and direction was what initially made the film unwatchable. Daniel Barnz, who adapted the novel for the screen, directed Beastly and I can only assume he figured his audience was either dumb or so thrilled by the book that they wouldn’t notice how poorly the movie was put together. Beastly features cuts between scenes that leave little concept of time or place and frequently cut out the reactions of characters, so the film fails to breathe and live. Instead, the movie cuts roughly between scenes and events and characters who we are supposed to care about never truly come alive as a result.

That said, initially Beastly grabbed me with the enchantment scene. As Kyle becomes Hunter, the blurring camera work, the use of Kendra’s face all over, made it very clear what was going on. But that might have been the last moment the movie captivated me. Even as I watched the scene, I postulated, “This would have had a lot more emotional impact for Kyle if his hair was falling out or he was inadvertently pulling it out as opposed to it simply disappearing.” But, the movie is hardly about emotional resonances.

Beastly ought to be about connections and chemistry, but it falls dramatically short of that. Kyle and Lindy slowly get to the point where they are spending time with one another – Lindy oblivious to Kyle’s true identity – but the two never click. Throughout, Kyle confers with Zola and Will, which makes it seem like his character is not truly growing. In fact, in a pivotal scene near the end, it seems very much like Kyle is just trying to get Lindy to say the words “I love you” to break the spell, even though there has not been enough in the film to actually make it a credible emotional reaction to him. Given that the end of the movie comes only a few scenes later, Beastly is hardly a great romance.

And, I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s nitpicky; how the hell did Lindy get into the school Kyle goes to?! Her father is a junkie who has no clear career and she does not seem to fit that world (when she arrives at Kyle’s apartment, she only has the two suitcases). That sort of attention to detail seems to be lacking from the movie, so it seems like Beastly is more preoccupied with reinterpreting Beauty And The Beast on as many fronts as possible without actually telling an enriching or interesting story on its own.

This comes through especially with Will. Will arrives, supposedly to tutor Kyle, as a blind sage. But what he actually does in Beastly is deliver incongruently funny lines whenever the movie gets into a rut. There is not enough Will in the film for the number of ruts the movie descends into. Will is played well by Neil Patrick Harris, who seems more the victim of an underwhelming part than anything resembling bad acting. While I was thrilled when Peter Krause’s name popped up in the credits, he was woefully underused as Kyle’s too-busy-for-the-kid archetype father.

Actually, the best acting arguably came from Lisagay Hamilton. Hamilton performs the role of Zola with a strong Caribbean accent. This is entirely unlike anything else I have ever seen her in and is a far cry from the articulate, easy-to-understand performances she gave in her role on The Practice. But even her part is designed more to make a point about Kyle than to truly embody an interesting character whom one wants to watch.

I came to Beastly with limited knowledge of the film’s two big stars. Alex Pettyfer appeared in I Am Number Four (reviewed here), which I enjoyed. While Sucker Punch (reviewed here!) did not grab me in any meaningful way, Vanessa Hudgens was not bad in that. As Lindy, though, she underwhelmed me. Hudgens, at least as directed in Beastly, seems to be working from the annoying trend pioneered by Mary-Louise Parker whereby women never close their mouths. That’s not a comment on how much they talk; it’s an actual problem with how they hold themselves. Their lips do not touch as they look at people and this concerted effort is not sexy. These women do not look like they are smiling, nor like they have something to say; they look like they are grimacing and it is unfortunate that Hudgens is going down that path, at least as Lindy.

The make-up effects in Beastly are interesting and Kyle’s transformed self looks pretty cool. Ultimately, though, they are not enough to recommend and Beastly falls – as many fantasy movies do these days – into a category of predictable, unimpressive films that simply failed to wow me.

For other fantasy films, please check out my reviews of:
Red Riding Hood


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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