by HELEN GEIB
The “beast” of Beastly, a re-telling of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale set in modern day New York City, is a selfish, egocentric high school student. Kyle (Alex Pettyfer, I Am Number Four) is the quintessential popular kid of teen movies: rich, handsome, intelligent, ripped, and vain. Everything changes when his astonishing obnoxiousness ticks off the school’s resident witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) and she puts him under a curse. He is transformed into a contemporary version of hideous ugliness; instead of fur and fangs, he gets horrible scars and piercings on his face, prominent tattoos all over, and the skinhead look, all of which together makes him unrecognizable to everyone he knows. He also gets one year to find true love, or he’ll live under the curse forever.
Beastly‘s “beauty” is one of Kyle’s classmates, Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical series). Lindy is smart, pretty, and very definitely not superficial. She has a bit of a crush on Kyle and he likes her too (not that he would ever have admitted it, pre-curse). After a plot contrivance that is ridiculous but in keeping with the traditional story, Lindy moves into the mansion Kyle’s self-centered father has hidden him away in. Also living there to look after Kyle are motherly housekeeper Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and wisecracking blind tutor Will (Neil Patrick Harris).
Is there a happy ending in the stars for Kyle and Lindy? Well, let’s just say the primary target audience for this movie is romantic teenage girls.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean the movie is shallow or trivial. In fact, not only does it respect the moral of the old story, it actually puts it front and center. Suffering teaches Kyle to be a decent human being, and the character transformation comes before the romance, in the story’s timeline and its emphasis both.
Lindy’s characterization is also commendable. She is depicted as admirable and someone worth emulating for nothing but good reasons, foremost that she doesn’t judge people by physical appearance. She is also responsible, diligent, and kind; she even likes studying because- wait for it- she likes to learn things! Hudgens’ girl-next-door prettiness and natural manner are just right for the part. Neither she nor Pettyfer shows particular range or command of the screen, but what’s more important in this instance is that they make you feel like their characters are real teenagers under the typical Hollywood exaggeration of teen life.
In the other principal parts, Hamilton and Harris are quite good and a big part of why the film is as surprisingly and intended to be funny as it is. Olsen is rather terrible, although I liked Kendra’s characterization as a witch motivated more by public spiritedness than personal grievance. She appears in a series of horrid outfits, which the film has the grace to acknowledge are ugly, with matching runway makeup and hairstyles. I suspect all are currently for sale in the Olsen fashion line.
However, the major negative is that the movie is awfully boring to look at. The only standout visual element is the beast’s makeup job, which is good; a forearm tattoo of a tree that changes seasonally to mark the one-year countdown was an especially nice touch. I kept looking for evidence of visual imagination, but the only memorable shot was the fairy tale castle suggestiveness of the ivy-colored front of Beast-Kyle’s row house, and even that was diminished by bland repetition.
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Penelope is a wonderful original fairy tale with a classic spirit and a top-notch cast led by Christina Ricci and James McAvoy.