I’ve had bad experiences with in-flight films. Granted, every long-distance flight has its share of good and bad entertainment, but somehow when I get on a plane I get stuck with some of the worst movies ever made. One time I got The Next Best Thing, AKA the movie where Madonna sleeps with her gay best friend. Another time I got Britney Spears‘ Crossroads, AKA the movie that tried in vain to convince the world Britney Spears could act. The list goes on. So, when I went on my trip to Germany with my mom earlier this month, I anticipated some awful shit on the flight. Flight to Europe wasn’t too bad … nothing I was interested in, but nothing insulting. On the way back, there was just one screen (so one entertainment choice). And the first movie up to the plate? Beastly, the Vanessa Hudgens teen/monster/romance flick that came out earlier this year. So, did I ignore it and listen to my mp3 player’s massive Jonathan Coulton playlist for the 86 minute run time? No … I decided to stare into the void of Beastly … for science. And CliqueClack Flicks. And Frodo.
The story is a modern adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, hence the title. Kyle is a handsome and rich student at a prep school, which means he is the most popular person in the school (duh). After insulting a fellow student, Kyle discovers this girl is actually a witch who puts a curse on him. In order for him to get turned back to normal, he needs a girl to fall in love with him for “the real him.” So, he blackmails the father of the smart girl he likes to have her stay with him in his isolated mansion. More on that last plot point later.
Let’s just jump into the worst part of this movie — the protagonist. Kyle is one of the least likable characters I’ve ever seen … and I’ve seen The Room. First we have him pre-curse, where he’s the walking stereotype of the popular pretty boy jerk. Imagine James Spader in Pretty in Pink and Paul Walker in She’s All That and you’re getting close to who we’re supposed to root for in this movie. At the beginning of the film, he’s a candidate for the school’s environmentalism club president (because students vote for that?), and his whole platform is — I kid you not — “I’m better looking than all of you. That’s why I deserve to win at everything.” And the entire student body explodes in joyous cheers, waving cutouts of the jackass’ smug face.
I don’t care where you are, high school isn’t this stupid. I graduated high school only seven years ago and even though they weren’t the best years of my life by any definition, the social caste wasn’t nearly this rigid and cruel. Granted, this is a high school with human-sized video screens installed every ten feet down the hallways, so maybe the movie wasn’t going for realism. These kind of movies bother me because they teach younger kids that this is what high school is like, so they go into high school thinking harsh, petty vanity is the social norm. Then Hollywood makes more teen movies about how high school is all about being popular, and the cycle continues on.
But OK, Kyle’s a jerk before the curse. Obviously we’re supposed to grow to like him after, right? You want to know what he does for the rest of the movie? He whines. A lot. His dialogue is bad, but actor Alex Pettyfer is slightly less bearable with every line. I kept feeling the urge to punch his voicebox in frustration, he’s just so unlikable. Most of his dialogue goes a little something like this (forgive the necessary extra vowels), “Waaah! I’m uuugly! No one likes uuugly people! My life suuucks now! I’m going to write in my livejournal about my angst!” I guess when you have a father whose #1 rule for hiring interns is “No fat chicks,” you’re going to have some emotional issues.
The thing is, his curse isn’t really that bad; he has some scars, but besides that he just has some pretty tattoos on his face and upper body. He even got to keep his muscular physique! Yet when he deletes his faux-Facebook/livejournal/myspace page, the website asks for his reason and he just writes (and I’m not kidding), “I am no more.” At this point, I actually started liking Edward “Melancholy” Cullen better than this guy, and that’s pretty damn impressive. Jesus, kid, you lost your hair and got some scars and pretty tattoos. Think of all the people who have dealt with major head trauma — same thing, but no pretty tattoos and brain damage instead. I’m not the first person to mention this, but he should realize by now that his “curse” is just catnip for the tortured soul-obsessed young women of America.
But this brings up one of the biggest problems of the movie … the strict assumptions about what is considered ugly in this story. The whole reason Kyle is cursed is because he called teen witch Kendra (played by a surprisingly enjoyable Mary-Kate Olsen) ugly. The thing is, at worst Kendra looks like a more feminine, less eccentric Lady Gaga. Sure, she has a silver face tattoo and avante-garde hair, but she’s far from ugly. Maybe his disdain for her “not looking like all the beautiful people who look the same” is the film trying to be satirical, but I’m not giving it that much credit. I just think the filmmakers couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that it’s OK for your average teenager to not look like a Hollister model.
Besides bitching about his awful existence, Kyle spends his time stalking Lindy, that smart girl I mentioned in the synopsis. He goes full-on Edward Cullen/Bill Compton on her after he sees her addict father kill a man. Kyle takes pictures of the corpse and threatens to tell the police unless the dad gives his daughter to him “for her protection.” To be fair, the dead man’s brother had just sworn to kill Lindy in revenge, but Kyle still basically bought her. I don’t care that it happened in the original fairy tale, it’s damn creepy for 2011. And while the blackmailing part is completely unethical, Lindy never discovers his deception and Kyle receives no repercussions for his actions. That’s the message we want to send to the young people … serious crimes are totally fine as long as they’re for the girl you like!
Oh, but Kyle’s sleeziness doesn’t stop there. Taking the alias “Hunter” when Lindy comes to live in this apparent stranger’s home, our hero attempts to win the fair beauty over with product placement … I mean, expensive name-brand clothes and jewelry. When his maid suggests he talk to her and get to know her, Hunter acts as if this is a completely new concept. To quote Dr. Zoidberg, “This ‘love’ intrigues me. Teach me to fake it!” And fake it he does! Down to building her a greenhouse but saying he just really likes flowers and pretending to like the same poetry she does. Kyle also forces his tutor to make up a lesson plan of only things he already knows so he’ll look smart. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
While Kyle/Hunter is unbearable, Vanessa Hudgens’ bland Lindy is not much better. The worst part about her character is we only know she’s a good person because she tells us she’s a good person. Having your heroine just say, “What can I say, I’m substance over style,” does not count as character development. It’s not helped when Lindy admits that she liked Kyle when he was still a popular asshole; that just tells me she’s a poor judge of character. Worst of all, the thing she misses most while hidden away with Hunter? School. Not her friends at school, just the classes. Yeah, she’s the “smart girl,” but no one likes school that much. She’s too perfect, and it’s boring.
The one kind ray of light in this dumb movie is Neil Patrick Harris as Kyle’s blind tutor. For one, NPH can act, which is normally a key component to casting actors, believe it or not. For another, he is one of the few people in this movie who doesn’t take this too seriously. And finally, his character calls Kyle out on all his shit. When “Hunter” tells Lindy he built the greenhouse so he could make “something ugly beautiful,” NPH starts to gag on the crappy dialogue. And anytime Kyle starts to bitch about his life, Neil says something like, “Oh yeah, sorry about your unexpected tattoos. Your life sure is difficult. Have I mentioned I’m blind?” The evil thing about this movie is how they trick you into wanting Kyle to succeed through the tutor. In the second half of the movie, the witch promises Kyle that if he breaks the spell, she’ll also restore the tutor’s sight. So when Kyle does get turned back to his pretty boy self (big surprise), I’m inadvertently happy because the better character gets his sight back. And yet I’m angry that I’m happy for the awful character.
So, did I enjoy the movie at all? Truth be told, I did enjoy mocking it in my own head. More than once I had to stifle my laughter to avoid waking up my mom in the seat next to mine. If you’re up for riffing on a stupid teen flick, Beastly is certainly that movie. But despite it’s accidental entertainment, this is still a bad movie. I guess the message that beauty isn’t skin deep gets through, but teens also get to learn that high school’s caste system is equivalent to India’s and that girls should totally fall in love with their stalker/captor. It’s even sadder considering how badly this mutilated the original novel, which I’ve learned is far less offensive. Nope, even Neil Patrick Harris couldn’t save this one.