2011, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by Daniel Barnz. Starring Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris, Lisa Gay Hamilton.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 4, 2011
Beauty and the Beast is so last century, right? Well, yes and no. It's likely impossible that any filmmaker will ever surpass the magisterial heartache of Jean Cocteau's 1946 phantasmagoria or, alternately, the tawny, televised melodramatics of future Hellboy Ron Perlman and Terminator's future mother of the savior of mankind, Linda Hamilton. But the French fairy tale has proven itself nothing if not durable throughout the ages, and so this new incarnation set in a contemporary Manhattan high school fills and swells and finally blooms with both emo bands and emotion. (Plenty of the former, enough of the latter.) Pettyfer (I Am Number Four) is Kyle Kingson, the wealthy, narcissistic, and extremely beastly product of his celebrity newscaster father's failed marriage. (He is also the product of too many blond highlights touched up too often.) Running for student "Green Party" president because he believes that "what you look like matters most of all," he soundly bests his only competitor – tree-huggy scholarship kid Lindy (Hudgens). This being high school, however, vengeance in the name of the terminally abs-and-bustline-challenged arrives via ominous gothling Kendra (Olsen, rocking the pancake and kohl combo), who casts a yearlong spell on Kyle which causes him, ironically, to resemble nothing so much as a newly assimilated Star Trek Borg. Absent his preppy good looks, Kyle is banished by his family to a different Manhattan town house overlooking the Hudson River, where he must, somehow, find someone who will fall in love with him … or else. Resistance to this sort of commingling of the classical tale with the high school milieu is, as ever, totally futile, and to its credit, Beastly doesn't try so hard to fit within the framework of the fairy tale that it bends itself all out of shape. Pettyfer performs a calculated arc with his character, whose emotional maturation moves, tellingly, with the seasons outside his window and the (not very) hideous disfigurements etched upon his frame. Hudgens' dimples threaten at times to overtake the narrative, but in the end, they're no match for Olsen's creepy-ass smirk, which, frankly, appears ready-made for Tim Burton's next outing.