Based on the novel by Alex Flinn
Adaptation Grade: C
KYLE: Can you imagine that love?
As an adjective, “beastly” is a word one associates with English schoolgirl fiction of the Enid Blyton or Elsie Oxenham school. “Oh, don’t be so beastly!” one plummy and proper young miss might demand of another. Or: “That was simply beastly!”, they’ll say of a particularly harrowing experience.
I don’t know that I’d go so far as to stigmatize this Beastly as being worthy of its name in that sense, but neither would I call it, in similar parlance, “ripping” or “prime” either. It was just… okay. Kind of. I guess. If I’m being very, very generous about it, which I am inclined to be, because it has people that I like in it and is, after all, a fairy tale reimagined to take place in and around an elite New York high school, and I am constitutionally incapable of completely hating any such thing.
No, not completely.
The school in question is Buckston Academy, and it’s a lot like Gossip Girl’s Constance if it had been designed by the Guggenheim guy. BMOC is the arrogant and superficial Kyle (Alex Pettyfer), who foolishly decides to mess with an evidently powerful sorceress, Kendra (Mary Kate Olsen) and who is punished for his presumption by being doomed to live his life “as aggressively unattractive outside” as he is inside. He has a year to break the curse by having someone say “I love you.” He’s our Beast.
Also attending Buckston is Vanessa Hudgens, our Beauty. Yes, nearly three years after graduating East High and heading off to Stanford with early admission to their Freshman Honors program (that’s a real thing, right?), and two years after appearing as high school junior Sa5m “the 5 is silent” (which she totally stole from Tom Lehrer) in Bandslam, Hudgens was back in class as despised scholarship kid Lindy, to whom idiot Kyle has apparently never deigned to speak–despite the fact that she is, when all is said, Vanessa Damn Hudgens. If we are to believe that Kyle cares so much for outward appearances, then is it at all likely he would have passed this impossibly beautiful sweetheart by? Flimsy, isn’t it? Seriously, all they had to do was throw her in a pair of glasses and it would’ve been She’s All That all over again.
Of course, these two lost souls need to find some way to be always in each others’ company, post-Beastification, and this comes to pass in one particularly laughable scene that sees Beauty consigned to the Beast’s care by her improvident drug-addled father after he kills a man (so much worse an infraction than taking a rose from the Beast’s garden, and simultaneously way less believable). But don’t worry, the rose thing is given plenty of play in the film, with Beast building Beauty a greenhouse, among other rose-related stuff. The book was full of it, too. Ho hum.
Anyway. There are longing looks and shared childhood trauma and finally, at last, love blooms. Just in time to break the curse, don’t you know… if somewhat unrealistically. I mean, The Beast had developed an obsession with Beauty after she said something nice about him, and she got all more-than-a-friendy towards him after he delivered her a letter spelling out how into her he just is. Wait, they like each other because the other one liked them? And they’re teenagers… I guess it is realistic, after all. After which… the end.
And by this point… Pettyfer is even almost pulling it off.
Alex Pettyfer… Okay, sure, he made a competent enough Alex Rider back in Stormbreaker (terrible movie of an awesome book; unlike this, which is a terrible movie of a so-so book), but who signed off on his trying to emote? When he’s all arrogant asshole, he doesn’t quite cut it. When he’s sullen and forsaken son of a noxious father (Peter Krause), he’s just kind of eh. At the beginning of the movie, he’s clearly struggling with some dialect issues (dude is British, in case you didn’t know), by the mid-point he seems to have difficulty deciphering exactly which foot is supposed to go in front of the other, and his attempts at beguiling Beauty into loving him are way creepier than I can suppose they were meant to be. (This, the book did far better). The only speed he manages with any degree of success is love struck, and that probably wouldn’t have been difficult to conjure, considering he was having to act at being in love with, if you’ll recall, Vanessa Hudgens.
Speaking of whom, she is… you know. Fine. Okay, even. And she’s super pretty, so she can be forgiven for being just basically there. (Hey, dick Kyle was right! Attractive people do have it better! Shocker.)
As for the supporting cast: well, Peter Krause I love, and we already knew he had insensitive jerk parent in his repertoire, as well as at playing a famous TV anchorman, with his years on the tragically unappreciated SportsNight to draw on there (if you’ve not seen SportsNight yet, watch it immediately! You’re welcome). He is therefore excellently cast in such a small role you have to wonder why he bothered.
Neil Patrick Harris, likewise. Why is he in this movie? On the one hand, he has the finest (read: only) comic timing in the film, and he does his best with his meager material. For the most part, his turn as sarcastic tutor/mentor Will is the movie’s highlight. On the other hand, there are definite moments of Barneyism on display here — at one point, he dramatically rises to his feet, and I more than half expected him to declare “Challenge accepted!” — that can only call into question Harris’s range.
Lisagay Hamilton (apparently the “Lisa” and “Gay” are one word now, or at least so claim the Beastly credits — it wasn’t like that when she was in The Practice, was it?) turns on a Jamaican accent, mon, as the Beast’s faithful housekeeper/nanny Zola, and she does a decent enough job. Mary-Kate Olsen is also perfectly serviceable as an honest-to-goodness, we’re-not-kidding-even-though-it’s-totally-ridiculous witch, whose awesome wardrobe of goth couture and face tattoo do not apparently give stupid Kyle pause before attempting to humiliate her in public for no discernible reason.
Of course, Olsen is very, very pretty. Pettyfer is — to some, evidently — also pretty. Harris, Hamilton, Krause, Hudgens and every single teenage bit-part… pretty. Drug-addled Dad not so much, but the dealers who shake him down at one point? Pretty. This movie is very confused as to its message.
And it’s a real shame they couldn’t have thrown in some dancing cutlery.
Written by Daniel Barnz | Directed by Daniel Barnz
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Peter Krause, Mary-Kate Olsen, Lisa Gay Hamilton
US Release Date: Friday, March 4, 2011