Daniel Barnz's 2011 film Beastly brings Alex Flinn's novel of the same title to the big screen. Although Barnz is known for his work on the independent film Phoebe in Wonderland (2009), a striking and magical intertextual film that includes stellar performances from an exceptional cast, Beastly does not live up to Barnz's potential. Those seeking a unique and thoughtful adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast" should look elsewhere. The film loses the little charm that Flinn's novel brings to the tale and reduces it to a stale, anticlimactic shadow of the popular fairy tale. The makeup artistry of the film is visually stunning, but the weak screen adaptation combined with poor acting and slow pacing make this film a disappointment for those who love "Beauty and the Beast" or enjoyed Alex Flinn's novel.
The film follows the story of Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer), the self-proclaimed prince of his elite private high school. Because of Kyle's arrogance and cruel streak, he attempts to bully Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), a classmate who just happens to be a witch. In response to his cruel and shallow nature, Kendra curses Kyle with disfiguring markings, scars, and tattoos. He must find love within a year or the transformation will become permanent. As a result of his appearance and his father's own revulsion, Kyle is forced into virtual exile. With just a Jamaican servant (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) as company, Kyle must face his own inner demons and learn to care for others. Along the way he strikes a bargain with a classmate's father and arranges for Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), a pretty but unpopular classmate, to stay in Kyle's isolated house. In the inevitable and predictable ending, Kyle realizes that he loves Lindy, and she, just as predictably, admits her love for Kyle at the last moment. [End Page 131]
Alex Pettyfer as Kyle Kingson presents a protagonist who ranges from arrogant and cruel to petulant and obsessive and finally emotionally codependent. Despite this, Pettyfer's acting is shallow and stilted. He never makes the viewer believe in Kyle's ultimate emotional transformation. The makeup magic, however, almost makes up for Pettyfer's lackluster performance. It effectively transforms Kyle into Hunter, a disfigured, tattooed misfit. Hunter's appearance is due to a combination of both makeup and prosthetics, and the result is both striking and visually compelling. This departure from the animal-beast of the traditional fairy tale and Flinn's novel helps to bring the story into the twenty-first century. Although Kyle's appearance excludes him from the pretty and popular crowd at his high school, his transformation does not, in fact, make him ugly or truly necessitate his isolation from humanity. Rather, in the right circles, his tattoos and scars would actually increase his popularity. Even so, the surreal and modern vision that Tony Gardner's makeup design brings to Beastly is the most effective revision of the entire film.
Lindy Taylor, played by Vanessa Hudgens of Disney's High School Musical franchise, lacks the personal magnetism and charisma that this character demands. The film attempts to characterize Lindy as an altruistic philanthropist; however, this is undercut by the fact that she acts like a brat, texting her friends and complaining about her life in the posh brownstone. As such, Lindy, who is justifiably antagonized by being forced to reside with a strange young man at her father's command, comes off as petulant and whiny rather then strong and enduring. The aforementioned conspiracy between Lindy's father and Hunter serves as a nearly physical reminder of the patriarchal overtones of the fairy tale, and it seems in sharp contrast with the modern tone that the rest of the film strives to achieve.
The supporting cast is slightly more engaging than the leading actors. Mary-Kate Olsen's portrayal of Kendra, the witch, is reminiscent of a Tim Burton character. However...