Friday, March 11, 2011

No denying she's a funny girl, that Belle

I saw Beastly last week, and...I kinda liked it! I mean, I didn't expect it to be any good, and it certainly lived down to that expectation. Half the fun was making fun of it with Joe. But the other half was just the movie, in all its ridiculous glory. I can't argue at all with the critics who ripped it apart, but the film was so sincere in its incompetence that I found it oddly endearing. Like, "Aw, honey, that's not where Brooklyn is, but good try sweetheart."

The plot, such as it is, is an update of Beauty and the Beast. Alex Pettyfer plays an obscenely rich private high school student and he's beautiful and a dick and he's especially mean to Mary Kate Olsen so she makes him "ugly," and his dad exiles him (not my word choice, there's a montage set to a song called "In the Garden of Exile" in case we didn't get it) to a gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone with a maid and a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris), and Vanessa Hudgens winds up there too (it's not even worth explaining, though to be fair it's almost as nonsensical in the original fairy tale) and Kyle has to make her love him before the year is up or he'll stay like this forever.

So it's ludicrous, obviously, and there are so many more ludicrous details I haven't mentioned (here's one: Kyle builds a greenhouse all by himself, out of old doors and shit, even though until now he's been able to buy anything he wants…like say new lumber). I'm hardly the first to point out that Kyle's "beast" form isn't really all that unattractive. In fact, in certain circles (granted, not ones he'd want to hang out in) he'd be more popular. In close-up it does look worse than it does in the trailers and posters (which I actually think used a different version of the makeup), with weird open wounds and some burn-looking scars, but couldn't they have made him fat or something? I could claim it's a feminist twist on the "pretty ugly girl" trope of teen movies if the plot didn't also hinge on Hudge being an outcast simply because she's poor and brunette. In one of the film's more preposterous moments (a high standard), right after seeing his transformed (kinda) face, Kyle unbuttons his shirt to, I guess, see the extent of the damage? And sure, the scars (and tattoos!) are everywhere, but the pecs and abs are still very much unbeastly. The words "I'd still hit it" may have been uttered in the theater. I guess it's safe to assume that Kyle's new look is...everywhere, but this is a PG movie.

I didn't really mind the lack of ugly, because, well, have you seen Alex Pettyfer? But on a plot level it's deeply weird that Hudge, who both already knows Kyle and has a crush on him even when he's an asshole (deep flaw in the movie's philosophy) doesn't recognize him, or his voice. And I didn't even realize until I looked at that photo that his eyebrows have words on them! Words that he said in front of her and that Mary Kate then grafittied in the school! It's also made clear that his situation is recent, yet at no point does anyone question what horrible accident might have left him so badly scarred and also tattooed. Although, this is a world in which Mary Kate's character is referred to as "the class witch," as if every high school has one. And it doesn't seem like it's a euphemism for "bitch" or shorthand for "freaky goth chick," so maybe this is just a world in which magic exists? And also face transplants? It's also a world in which Brooklyn has a view that belongs in Queens, fancy private high schools are office building lobbies, local news anchors are gajillionaires*, Manhattan has dead-end streets (but with a Duane Reade on it so you know it's New York), and Mary Kate Olsen, Vanessa Hudgens and Lisa Gay Hamilton are ugly, so maybe!

Weirdly, Mary Kate is the best thing about this movie. It's not that she's good (she's not, at all), it's that she totally gets it. She sets a camp tone that no one else rises to (to be fair, the script won't let them). And she has the most fabulous Lady Gaga meets Stevie Nicks wardrobe and wigs. Neil Patrick Harris clearly knows what movie he's in, and just kinda goes with it, seemingly having as much fun as he can. Everyone else plays it very straight, which is sort of too bad, but it's also what makes it all funny.

And somehow, it all kinda worked for me. And I clearly wasn't alone. When Hudge looked deep into Kyle's still-pretty eyes, and of course she wasn't going to say "I love you" yet because the movie obviously wasn't over, and she said, "you're a good friend," a group of teenage (I hope?) girls behind us groaned. It was delightful. Joe and I agreed that it was the best moment either of us had shared with a movie audience in a while.

Not one of us doesn't know how this story ends, so why not just have fun with it? I can't say it's worth $12 in the theatre, but if you enjoy fun trash, invite some snarky friends over, have a couple of drinks, and go to town on Netflix. My one regret: That it wasn't a musical. That might have made it the best worst movie ever.

*UPDATE 7/5/12: Some of local anchor Pat Kiernan's real estate dealings made news recently, so maybe that rich anchor thing is true!

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