March 4, 2011

Beastly movie image slice

Beastly nearly succeeds at hiding all of its woes behind its comedic exterior. Unfortunately, the film has a devastatingly pretentious beginning and an unwieldy message. This modern day reimagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast tale goes after the teen heart with particular verve. While the film will obviously squander the good looks of star Alex Pettyfer, it makes an effort to show him doing shirtless pull-ups in the opening scene. All of this is laughably wrong, and yet the comedic bits that Beastly provides almost wipes the bad taste from your mouth by the third act. Instead of laughing at it, you begin laughing with it. However, all of its levity can only go so far to save this mixed message fairy tale about how far love can go. Hit the jump for my full review.

Kyle (Pettyfer) is good-looking, wealthy, and an insufferably cocky and self-centered teenager, which is the perfect mix for a popular bully at his high school. When the witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) taunts Kyle for his cruel ways, he fires back with his own trickery. However, everything comes crashing down when Kendra casts a spell on Kyle, disfiguring him with only one year to find true love. Outcast from his father and afraid of what others think, Kyle secludes himself in a loft downtown. Eventually, with the help of his blind tutor Will (Neil Patrick Harris) and his maid Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton), he gains courage and starts to form a selfless tendencies. When the attractive yet unpopular classmate Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) has problems of her own, he strikes a deal to take her in and protect her.

The story, based on the critically acclaimed young adult novel by Alex Flinn, retreads most of the ground already covered by the classic fairy tale. The one true change is that this tale centers on the beast’s perspective instead of beauty’s. However, a large portion of what made Flinn’s novel so different is cast to the side in the adaption for the screen written by director Daniel Barnz. What is left is a troublesome and vapid story that tries to cover its tracks with comedic situations and dialog.

The trouble begins when the opening minutes are spent showing how beautiful Kyle is, while also showing his extreme intolerance of those he considers ugly. His campaign for the Green Council is built around being handsome, without much else. While this draws the ire of those he mocks, his similarly good-looking peers enthusiastically cheer him on. However, Kyle did not form his wonderful personality out of thin air. His father is distant but leaves the stench of arrogance wherever he goes, and has a similar distaste for ugly people. Yet Lindy, who is Kyle’s opponent for the Green Council, finds something to admire about his personality.

She remarks later that he was not afraid to tell it as he saw it, even if it was wrong. How this outspoken flawed perspective on life can be turned into a positive character trait is a glimpse at what kind of mixed messages the film contains. Then there is the predictable nature of the story, in which Kyle makes his first public appearance after being transformed during — drum roll — a Halloween party.

Providing a spark of humor is the out of place Neil Patrick Harris, who makes the most of his quirky comedic timing to bring his character to life. Blind jokes abound, but there are even life lessons involved. While trying to win the affections of Lindy, Will and Zola become confidants and advisors. Kyle is prone to fits of adolescent behavior and his celebrations of success will draw laughter. All of this combines to form a light and upbeat middle that provides both laughs and thoughtful remarks on themes of beauty and self-confidence.

Although most teen romances attempt to be overly solemn and full of angst, Beastly manages to keep things light. While there are genuine moments of comedy, the romance and acting from the leads generally feels lacking, which is the heart and soul of the film. This creates an odd predicament where the flaws of the main storyline are overshadowed by the levity of the situations and characters. The lessons contained within Beastly are also at odds with each other, making for an ultimately uneven film. The shame is that the film succeeds in unexpected ways, but the parts that should have worked fall flat.

Rating: C+


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