Beastly Directed by: Daniel Barnz Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: March 4, 2011
PLOT: A spoiled & shallow New York teen (Pettyfer) is magically disfigured by a witch (Olsen) as a lesson and potential for redemption. This is "Beauty and the Beast" retold through a modern lens.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of Pettyfer, Hudgens and/or Olsen. There's not much here for everyone else.
EXPECTATIONS: I hadn't heard too much about this film, or seen any trailers -- I had seen a few movie posters, but found those to be relatively unappealing. All in all, my expectations for this film were very low. The modern day retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" just sounds like a tired idea. All of the names attached to the project conspired against me in the realm of expectations, and from my initial perspective, before seeing the film, I felt that Beastly was entirely lacking in allure.
ACTORS: Alex Pettyfer as Kyle: As clunky and thin as the entire Beastly production turned out, I must admit to liking Pettyfer's performance here. His comedic timing, his playful bounce between pensive brooding and joyous alleviation, and his general presence, were all enjoyable and well performed. His performance wasn't stellar -- there were a few goofy moments -- but compared to the carnage ablaze around him, I was impressed with what he managed. As incompetence turned out to be par for the course for everything else in the film, I'd offer that these goofy moments would best be summed up as Pettyfer being dragged down with the ship. In the end, his presence was the only thing that prevented my entire system from shutting down. Score: 7
Vanessa Hudgens as Lindy: I mean no personal assault on Ms. Hudgens here, but I have never seen an actress so aware of the fact that she was acting. She is my new paradigm to be referenced whenever the "hyper self-awareness as a thespian" subject is on the table. Dare I even call her a thespian? She seemed much more dialed in to "I'm an actress in a major motion picture," then to "I am Lindy." Her eyes gave this away, as did her mannerisms and general presence, and I never once bought into the existence of her character. She seemed to be selling Vanessa Hudgens full stop. I doubt this is something her career can recover from; I feel such is very revealing about one's acting ability, or lack thereof. Perhaps someday she'll prove me wrong, and blossom into a less self-aware actress, but I doubt she'll be given too many more opportunities like this. Score: 2
Mary-Kate Olsen as Kendra: I understand that Mary-Kate and her twin sister have had a fairly successful career in the realm of straight-to-video, but this was the first time I'd seen her since 'Full House,' and I was a little disconcerted as to how much she looked like present day Pamela Anderson. Not in the bosom but in the botox. It depressed me. How can a 24-year-old already have issues with aging? The fact that I'm shooting tangent here is commentary unto itself as to Olsen's acting performance in Beastly. She was seemingly inserted here as a plastic gimmick, nothing more. Score: 2
Neil Patrick Harris as Will: I still see him as Doogie Howser, and therefore have had a difficult time digesting him as an 'adult,' but I can say that I enjoyed his performance, at least to a certain degree. Harris' expressive face and well-timed delivery of lines did garner a fair share of laughs from the crowded theatre. At times though, I found his presence to be contrived and bland, but not so much as to take away from his better bits. Score: 6
TALKING: The script for this film was poor, devoid of impact, and almost entirely without a soul. This wouldn't matter as much if the film wasn't trying to say something Aesopian, but Beastly attempts to convey semi-elevated existential/moral lessons, and with low-end writing like this, what results is embarrassment. The characters and the world they inhabit were written paper thin. As I'd mentioned, Pettyfer's performance did have merit, and considering how weakly crafted the textual underpinnings were here, I feel this was an incredible accomplishment. Score: 3
SIGHTS: This film was boringly shot, cut and presented. For most of the film, I felt like I was "on set" or "behind the scenes" with the actors, and never felt transported to another world. On top of that, I felt like the overall design of the film reeked of artifice. Who goes to a high school that looks like Apple's corporate headquarters? The short of it: it was all too glossy for a film who's main message is that glossiness is only skin deep. Score: 3
SOUNDS: The soundtrack seemed a simple showcase for up and coming bands. I grew quickly tired of the derivative rock and pop love songs. I found the music to be extremely heavy-handed, sweeping in over each and every 'powerful' emotional moment, ensuring that the audience knew how to feel about such. [SPOILER ALERT] The ending of the film did have a certain potency to it, if only because of the music attached, and in that I can applaud the sound design there -- even if I do find the heavy-handedness of such to be in poor taste. I am a sucker for happy endings, where true love is satisfied by a long awaited kiss, and a big sweeping score can certainly add to such. If Beastly's soundtrack got one thing right, I'd say it was in the big-happy-kiss scene at the film's finale, but all in all, I felt that the soundtrack fell way flat. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: The aforementioned happy ending scene.
ENDING: What can I say? I do like happy endings. The film didn't work well at all, but I imagine if one were to pluck this scene from the film and watch it as a standalone, one would likely appreciate it -- well, that's assuming one can tolerate such mawkishness.
QUESTIONS: Why did Lindy never question Mr. Beastly about how he came to be so ridiculously disfigured?
REWATCHABILITY: Um, no.
I found this film to be fairly hard to watch. It was thankfully a relatively short endeavor, and Alex Pettyfer did have a few particularly bright moments, so it wasn't entirely without merit. I'd also like to praise the general message of the film. It was refreshing to have a main-stream film attack the shallowness of beauty-worship, or at least attempt such.
Ultimately though, this film was no bueno.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10