“Beastly” makes me long for 1991.
I was 4 years old then, and obsessed with “Beauty and the Beast.” I had the bedding with all the characters. I had a sweat-suit with Belle and the Beast on it. I had a framed poster of the two dancing. I was determined that one day I would grow up and meet a guy who loved me for who I was and who I could love for who he was, and we’d read books together and hang out in libraries and drink a lot of tea and be entertained by dancing cutlery. I was 4; these things seemed feasible.
Much of that fantasy, though, was due to the completely enthralling charm of the Disney animated flick, one of the company’s most masterful 2-D works. “Beastly,” a modern retelling of that tale based on a 2007 novel by Alex Flinn, not only abandons everything “Beauty and the Beast” had going for it but does shame to Flinn’s novel, too. Congratulations, CBS Films! So far, your track record has given us 2010’s “Extraordinary Measures” and “The Back-up Plan” and 2011’s “Faster” and “The Mechanic.” Not so hot, guys.
Where to start with “Beastly”? Well, it’s all bad, so there’s that – and yet, quite sadly enough, younger girls will probably love it because of how attractive Alex Pettyfer is and because they can sympathize with Vanessa Hudgens, who previously starred in the “High School Musical” franchise. Though “Beastly” is based on Flinn’s novel, it lacks many of the subtleties of the book, which gave us the point of view of Beast, a handsome high school student named Kyle who is transformed into an actual monster when he’s rude to a witch posing in his class. Given two years by the witch to find someone who will love him, he begins to fall for classmate Lindy, whose drug-addicted father coerces her into living with Kyle. The two glow closer, and though tragedy involving Lindy’s father nearly tears them apart, love eventually conquers all, etc. There are no singing spoons or fashionable bureaus, but the characters were more believable than “Twilight,” and they kept their clothes on for the most part. Dear Jacob, please buy a shirt, thx.
The film version of “Beastly,” however, strips away most of the book’s detail, switches around important plot points and overall makes the tale exceedingly superficial and short-sighted, even though this is supposed to be a story deeper than that. The characters are one-dimensional, the relationship unbelievable and the hardships trite. We deserve better romances, and “Beastly” is not the one.
Things begin with a shirtless Kyle (Pettyfer), working out in his bedroom before school, where he’s running for president of the environmental club on campus. During his campaign speech, he boasts about how pretty and rich people have it better, so that’s why everyone should vote for him – and the other students at his elite, upper-class private school eat it up, waving signs with his face on them and vowing to vote for him. The only two people not buying the hype are Kendra (Mary-Kate Olson), whose Goth outfits earn cruel taunts from Kyle and his friends about how she’s a witch, and Lindy (Hudgens), a scholarship student who Kyle has never noticed before, despite their three years together as classmates.
Lo and behold, though, Kendra and Lindy seem to be the only abstainers from the Kyle popularity frenzy, which jettisons him into the president position. As a cruel joke, he invites Kendra to a victory party, where he later embarrasses her – causing Kendra to reveal herself as a real witch. He’s failed the test of kindness, she says, so she curses him, turning him scarred, ugly and tattooed (his eyebrows are made up of Arabic characters, which is offensive and unnecessary) and telling him that unless he finds someone to love him within a year, he’ll stay like this forever.
Plunged into despair and rejected by his father, who helped create Kyle’s ideas about how beauty equals power and who buys an apartment outside the city to hide him away, the teen spends the next five months moping about his fate. But as more of his thoughts are consumed with Lindy, who piqued his interest at that victory party, he vows to rebuild his life, with her in it. A series of events involving her drug-addicted father bring Lindy to live with Kyle, and with the help of his housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris), he sets out to make her fall in love with him before his year is up.
In a film rife with mistakes, Kyle’s character and how the relationship between Lindy and Kyle develops are the worst. “Beastly” immediately establishes that Kyle is a rude, self-centered brute, quick to insult any girl he deems a “slut,” “skank” or “ugly cow,” but the growth that we’re supposed to see from the character never materializes. In “Beauty and the Beast,” Beast fell for Belle and grew to be a better man because of her love and activities they shared together; in “Beastly,” Kyle just latches onto Lindy without any real explanation. He wants to protect her, but why? He builds her a greenhouse because she likes roses, but why not try to find and share more of her interests? And why would Lindy, who previously had no interaction with Kyle and was ignored by him for years, suddenly begin to long for him during her absence from school? Their courtship is vapid and rushed, and Kyle doesn’t seem to become a better man for it; Lindy’s apologizing away of his poor behavior is even worse. For younger girls seeing this film, the suggestions about love here – that you still have to be pretty in order to get the guy, and that love can blossom after barely spending any time together, and that someone’s cruelty isn’t that big of a deal – aren’t really that positive.
The only enjoyable parts of the film come from Olson, who has a spectacular wardrobe at her disposal, and Harris as Kyle’s tutor, a wise-cracking sarcastic type who mocks Kyle’s predicament while obviously sympathizing with his pain. “High school unquestionably sucks ass,” he tells Kyle when the latter mopes about being away from his classmates, but Harris is really only here to fill in for Lumiere – and the candlestick had more character development.
“Beastly” is rated PG-13, but the film doesn’t really deserve it, except for the language. There’s not much cursing but Kyle is cruel when putting down others, using offensive words for women quite often, and his overall beauty-over-brains mentality in the beginning is hurtful, too. He’s not that scary when he becomes the Beast; yes, he’s covered in scars, tattoos and what looks like staples keeping his face together, but they’re not focused on in a gruesome way. There are also a couple of kisses, a character who is a drug addict (but you don’t see any drug use) and someone who gets murdered (but you don’t see the killing occur). For the most part, tweens who have seen the “Twilight” series should be able to handle this.
But if you own “Beauty and the Beast,” why would you want to? That film is far superior to “Beastly,” a better adaptation of the original story and with stronger, better messages for children about love and loyalty. “Beastly” fails to give us the pain the Beast feels – and, even more importantly, doesn’t have Gaston. The travesty.