Tuesday, 14 June 2011

“Pretty gruesome, huh?”

Beastly: written and directed by Daniel Barnz
Why did I decide to watch Beastly? I can’t give a definitive answer. Ultimately, I suppose I was just a little curious was to what Beauty and the Beast would look like as a potentially vapid teem romance. Not that I hadn’t been warned. That horrific A Cinderella Story (an updated version of Cinderella) with Hillary Duff was bad enough. But, I’m masochistic, at best, when it comes to movie and I have to admit the presence of Neil Patrick Harris made me decidedly curious…

I don’t want to turn this review into a comparative analysis of Beastly and Beauty and the Beast, but it’s difficult to completely ignore it when your films sets itself up as a version of a celebrated film inspired by an even more celebrated fairytale, you’re setting yourself up for the risk of your own volition. And Beastly immediately lacerates its chances by spending its first act of the film focusing on the beast before his transformation to beast. One of the reasons that Beauty and the Beast is always such a fine candidate for discussion is that there is always room for the suggestion that, perhaps, the beast got the short end of the stick but Alex Pettyfer’s Kyle is a complete asshole, which doesn’t invalidate his trajectory from heartless bastard to dashing male lead, but it does make the one year of “ugliness” he endures seem like an insubstantial price to pay for being the devil’s advocate.

Kyle lands himself in the supernatural mess when he insults an “ugly” classmate of his (Mary Kate Oleson) at a pep rally who happens to be a witch in disguise. I put ugly in uplifted commas, because other than her indiscriminate use of dark makeup I’m blanking on why she’d be considered ugly. But, it’s one of a series of random things about Beastly because the stakes in it seem especially minor. Sure, Kyle is evil and all but the way in which he insults this “witch” seems especially bland – considering how diabolical he seems capable of being. But, this is high school – so harsh words and the embarrassment of being stood up for a date are reasons for dire revenge. It gets even sillier, where a random meeting with a petty drug mule makes Vanessa Hudgen’s Lindy (or Beauty, in this case) journey to the Beast’s lair to hideout. And on and on.

I’m a bit wary of lodging the blame indiscriminately on the leads, well on Alex Pettyfer at least (more on him when I review I Am Number Four later in the week). True, Kyle is a completely ludicrous character but it’s not so much that Pettyfer plays him poorly as it is there’s nothing for him to play. The entire film is permeated with a strong sense of laziness and the film depends on the concept that after one year Kyle is able to believe in the dictum of “true beauty is within” – or some other trite aphorism. But, there’s the striking sense that screenwriter and director Daniel Barnz doesn’t really believe in what he’s preaching. The one year journey is developed in spurts that do little – if anything – to establish any emotional profundity in his plight. There’s supposed to be an epiphany of sorts when Kyle realises that even though he was gorgeous, his meanness meant that no one liked him. It doesn’t land, though, especially when you consider that it was his richness that seems to be the most significant draw; a richness which he still has, beastly outside or not. Barnz just seems disinterested in serving up a robust cinematic experience. And, the entire supporting cast seem about as unenthused.

For me, three of them manage to come out unscathed. Peter Krause shows up for all of ten minutes to play the father of the beast – as selfish, and arrogant as his son (pre-transformation). Maybe it’s because there’s a constant sense of him trying to escape the horrific image of his beastly son, but I find it hilarious in some way how Krause plays the film with a constant tunnel-vision as if he’s unaware of (or uninterested in ) all the film’s issues. Mary Kate Oleson takes another route. Her jeering witch is so fantastically over-the-top she seems to be deliberately stirring the point for her own amusement. Then, there’s Neil Patrick Harris – dependable as always playing a random blind tutor to Kyle. The character is tosh, but Neil is good to watch – as always.

I can’t say that my curiosity to see Beastly was fatal, but it wasn’t especially rewarding either. It falls into a long list of films which have nothing to say – and even worse say it in such a lethargic manner than you wonder why on earth they were green-lit in the first place.

1 comment:

Walter L. Hollmann said...

a snoozefest for sure, but I kind of liked Vanessa Hudgens in it. Genuine charmer, that one.