You already know the drill: rich and handsome yet completely self-absorbed, our hero meets his match, gets his comeuppance, and learns that its what’s inside that counts. Surely, I hear you cry, that’s the plot to every teen movie ever made, from Pretty in Pink to She’s All That! Beastly, however, tackles this theme in the classic architecture of Beauty and the Beast; a tale of what lies within for the Tween generation. The result is predictable, and if you are particularly allergic to cheese you may want to avoid ingesting, although it is sprinkled with enough magic to make an ultimately sweet (if incredibly earnest) fairy tale.
Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is our spoiled prince, his golden good looks transformed by kooky modern-day witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) and replaced by a contemporary equivalent of the beastly visage: a hairless anomaly riddled from top to toe by odd magical tattoos and painful-looking marks that best resemble tribal scarification. He is shunned by family and friends alike, his only companions in his lonely tower (a.k.a. penthouse apartment) the kindly housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and his self-deprecating blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris). Kyle’s one ray of hope appears in the form of Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), the girl who might come to love the real him - scars and all - and break the curse.
Alex Pettyfer makes for a serviceable, if rather bland lead. He carries the weight of the film and has too many emo moments to mention, and while he does put in a good effort, the results are forgettable. Vanessa Hudgens sparkles as the kind and thoughtful love interest, her accepting attitude making it easy to understand why he falls for her, although less understandable is why she would like him, what with his tendency to stalk her. Lindy is a social outcast in a world that values outside appearance above all else; considering that Hudgens is very pretty and sports perfect hair and makeup throughout, it’s difficult to believe that she’d be unpopular if popularity is based on looks (as is established early on in the film). Perhaps this is meant to be an indication that Lindy is a girl apart from the crowd, someone who chooses to be different; or perhaps this is just a reflection of Hollywood’s incapability of casting anyone who isn’t perfect (yes, in real life, ugly teenagers do actually outnumber pretty ones).
Mary-Kate Olsen makes an interesting turn as the witch figure; gone is the classic picture of the old crone, to be replaced by fashionista witch Barbie, complete with an impressive range of bonkers costumes (not to mention fabulous shoes) and heavy eyeliner. Olsen obviously relishes in the character’s power and confidence and makes the most of her small amount of screen time. While underused, Neil Patrick Harris manages to steal every scene he’s in as Kyle’s acerbic tutor Will and the less said about the atrociously grating Jamaican accent of the housekeeper the better.
The plot is pretty simple with no real twists or turns. There are some missteps, most notably in the abyss-like plot hole that becomes the reason for Lindy moving in with Kyle. Both laughably ridiculous and hopelessly contrived, it is easier to simply forgive and forget as it moves the plot along and brings Lindy and Kyle into close proximity. Beastly’s teenagers are romanticised to the point of being unrealistic, creating moments when you can’t help but cringe - particularly when Kyle and Lindy bond over a favourite poem in a moment that is faintly ridiculous, but obviously intended to be romantic (do teenagers actually fall in love over poetry nowadays, instead of Saw XI and a McDonalds?). Ultimately this fairy tale gets the fairy tale ending it was always going to get, and you can’t help but cheer a little once it all works out in true sappy rom-com fashion. It all ends with a delightfully satisfying coda where the film’s true ‘villain’ gets his comeuppance.
The visuals used to portray the magical elements of the story are interesting and pretty to look at. Hearkening back to the classic tale (which comes about when a merchant plucks a rose as a gift for his youngest daughter), Kyle’s tattoos are bramble-like and thorny. Following that theme there’s also a roof-top garden filled with roses in which Kyle woos Lindy (although perhaps less said about that the better). In a nod to the much-loved Disney version (which sees a rose slowly wilting as the Beast’s time runs out) Kyle also has the tattoo of a tree on his arm that changes with the seasons, it’s eventual flowering the signal for his own magical clock striking the proverbial twelve.
Despite its largely uninspiring lead, Beastly is a sweet-yet-slightly-emo love story that, while vaguely contrived in places, sparkles enough to make it a guilty pleasure. If you’re a romantic at heart, this is that feel-good film you save for a rainy day. The film is undoubtedly riddled with cheese but, ultimately, it’s a cheesecake - guiltily delicious, if you can bring yourself to taste it.
Beastly is out in the UK on both DVD and Blu-ray on August. Special Features were unavailable at the time of writing.