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March 5, 2011

Beastly is the title of this young-adult-themed adaptation of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, it could also serve well as a review. Hamstrung by an awkward, lackluster script based on Alex Flinn’s novel, the movie carries a strong message, if not the one writer-director Daniel Barnz may have intended.

Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) is the prince in this story — the “king’s son”. Seriously, that’s about as deep as the writing ever gets. He lives in Manhattan with his workaholic father, who is some sort of national news anchor. His mother, we learn, has left the family for no real reason other than to give Kyle some pathos. And his father makes it clear that a person’s worth. Is directly connected to his appearance.

So it’s not really a surprise that Kyle is a world-class asshole, albeit an unusually self-aware and self-indulgent one. But this leads to trouble when he pulls a prank on his prep school’s resident weird girl, Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen). He finds out that she’s not called a witch for nothing, when she lays a curse on him: he is made ugly — beastly — and has one year to find someone who can love him anyway, or the effects will be permanent.

After throwing money at the problem, Kyle’s father shuts him up in a manse in Brooklyn, along with a housekeeper, Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton), and a blind tutor, Will (Neil Patrick Harris). He wastes half the year feeling sorry for himself before beginning to stalk Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), eventually taking her into his house for protection against her father’s drug dealer who, conveniently, wants to kill her.

Ostensibly, the point is the value in seeing past superficialities, and proving Kyle’s initial thesis — received from his father — incorrect. Except the movie does precious little to give that point anything more than lip service. Lindy is basically a saint, which we know because she’s preternaturally gorgeous without the aid of designer clothes or makeup or accessories. Kyle, for his part, is actually quite striking, although in a nontraditional way.

He’s not seriously deformed in any way, unlike the hero of the far superior Toxic Avenger film series. Instead, he loses his hair, gets a full-body tattoo, and some wicked scarification. Sure, there are a few unsightly bumps beside his nose, but on the whole he’d be considered gorgeous in at least three or four alternative subcultures I’m aware of. Which brings up the real message of the film: there is only one standard of beauty, whether you put any stock in it or not. People with unconventional looks are simply ugly, and have to find an unrealistically saintly partner who can love them despite this obvious flaw.

The actors do the best they can with what they have to work with here. Pettyfer actually does an intriguing job with developing two completely separate characters, and his physicality in his beastly form is more convincing than any of the dialogue. Harris is excellent, and it’s a relief when we find him in a scene. And he looks sharp as hell in his series of vests. But even a couple good actors and a good costume designer cannot save a fundamentally flawed film.

Worth It: not at all.
Bechdel test: fail.

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