An updated version of Beauty & The Beast for the teen crowd, modernised, with a small role for Mary-Kate Olsen and a lead role for Vanessa Hudgens. That sound you can hear is the sound of sane cinema fans rushing to leap off the nearest cliff. But before you go joining them let me just try to convince you that, while it’s no movie classic, Beastly is far from the worst thing you could ever be forced to endure. In fact, it’s quite passable teen fare up until a terrible and mawkish finale, which is at least followed by a fun little coda.
Based on the novel by Alex Flinn, Daniel Barnz directs the tale of a good-looking young student (Alex Pettyfer) who makes the mistake of mocking a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) and having a disfiguring curse placed on him. He has a year to break the curse, signified by a tree tattoo that is placed on his arm, and it can only be broken by someone telling him that they love him, despite his recent brush with numerous ugly sticks. That someone could be Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) if he does everything just right and thinks about matters of the heart rather than material goods.
The start of Beastly is surprisingly enjoyable, if a little lame. Pettyfer makes a good first impression, although his character isn’t all that pleasant, as he makes a speech to his fellow students about the importance of good looks and just why they should give him their vote. Hudgens is a bit of a wet blanket, and stays that way throughout, but her character is one with a good heart so it’s forgiveable. Just. And then Mary-Kate Olsen steps up to be all witchy woo, which is great fun. Things continue to be surprisingly enjoyable as our leading man struggles to accept and deal with his curse, aided by a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris, unconvincing but occasionally amusing) and a housemaid (Lisa Gay Hamilton). Then it all starts to go downhill. As soon as things move into mopey-watching from the shadows-teen love territory it’s a slippery slope. There are still moments of humour and stuff that’s not too cringeworthy but every step towards the predictable finale is a step into Twilight territory.
Of course, the problems that I had with the film are not problems that will bother the core demographic the movie is clearly aimed at. In that regard, the film works and Barnz, who also adapted the novel, has shown a solid competence in putting everything together, even if it is all by-the-numbers stuff. It has pretty stars (even if they’re made ugly), a smattering of literal songs, romance, life lessons and, yes, even one or two montage moments.
If you’re over the age of 16 then this is probably best avoided but if you’re forced to watch it with your daughters/nieces/female cousins then you won’t necessarily need to wash your eyes out with bleach after the credits roll.
DIRECTOR: DANIEL BARNZ
STARS: ALEX PETTYFER, VANESSA HUDGENS, NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, MARY-KATE OLSEN, LISA GAY HAMILTON, ERIK KNUDSEN
RUNTIME: 86 MINS APPROX