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Wayback Wednesday: Beastly (2011)

“Beastly…” yeah, I’ll say it is.

When I pick a movie for my Wayback reviews, it’s either a movie I love a lot, or it’s a movie related to a holiday or an upcoming release. Like, you can bet your butt that when Mulan (2020) comes out, I will ABSOLUTELY be reviewing Mulan (1998). But for this week’s Wayback, I thought I’d shake things up and look back at a movie that I remember being terrible and seeing how it holds up. Well, what can I say? Beastly (2011) wasn’t very good the first three times I saw it, and round four proved to be no different. You guys, this movie is bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just cheesy and silly enough to be enjoyable.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 7.20.39 PM
Credit: / CBS Films

Based on Alex Finn’s novel of the same name, Beastly tells the story of Kyle Kingson, a handsome and arrogant high school student. When his vanity and mistreatment of others leads him to bullying a witch named Kendra, she transforms him into a scarred, tattooed, hairless “beast.” To break the curse, Kyle must find one person who will love him for what’s on the inside, and not for his appearance.

Of all the 2000s / early 2010s movie tropes I adore, and trust me, there are many, the trope of taking an iconic fairy tale and re-telling it as a modern teen movie holds a special place in my heart. How could it not? It’s a trope that’s given us classic teen movies like A Cinderella Story (2004) and Sydney White (2007). Then there were less classic movies like Beastly. While the former two are beloved for being wacky comedies brimming with camp and charm, Beastly is decidedly less pleasing because it’s a bland romance that takes itself slightly too seriously. Look, Beastly isn’t horrible. But in trying to tell a moving love story, it ended up becoming a movie whose most redeeming quality is that it’s riddled with cheesy clichĂ©s that are fun to ridicule.

Would I have liked this movie to be an intentionally campy, silly, teen comedy? Of course I would have. That type of movie is like catnip to me. But at its core, the story of “Beauty and the Beast” has a deeper message than “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” so I understand why this modern re-imagining is more reserved. Honestly, I’d say that Beastly definitely achieves its goal of spinning the classic story in a new way. It’s a great, engaging premise! However, I have a feeling the story is far more enjoyable to read than it is to watch because, oh wow, is this movie poorly executed.

Like I said, the premise is great, but it’s the dialogue and narrative flow that stops Beastly from being the fantastical phenomenon that it could have been. You can tell that writer / director Daniel Barnz attempted to emulate the wit and quirky lovableness of 1980s teen rom-coms, but the final product feels more like a parody than an homage. With one-dimensional characters, wooden performances, and dialogue that flip-flops between melodramatic and bizarrely unrealistic, Beastly surprisingly manages to just squeak by into, “so-bad-it’s-good,” territory. Seriously, the writing. Dakota Johnson’s character literally says without any irony, “WTF. Go blow a goat.” Which, is almost as bad as Kyle typing that the reason for deleting his social media is because, “I am no more.” Is there anything better than grown men believing they know how to write believable teenage characters? No, there really isn’t.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 7.13.31 PM
Credit: / CBS Films

Only in a Young Adult romance would you hear lines like, “beautiful people have it better,” and “I want her…I want to protect her,” spoken with unwavering conviction. The lines, and their reading, are so laughably cheesy that it somehow saves Beastly from being terrible. Let me put it this way: This is 100 per cent the type of movie you’d watch with your friends at a sleepover and simultaneously swoon over the pretty actors and laugh at the ridiculous, over the top moments. Remember when Kyle and Lindy, the “Beauty” to his “Beast,” go to his lakehouse for literally no reason? They literally show up, almost kiss, then immediately leave. No movie knows how to inconsequentially waste time like Beastly.

You guys, it’s not even until the 40 minute mark, halfway through this hour and 26 minute movie, that Lindy even winds up confined to the same house as Kyle! The slow-moving pace is maddening, and it doesn’t help that in lieu of actual dialogue or character-building moments, Barnz just inserts pop songs with titles related to how Kyle is feeling. We’re talking about songs that are super on the nose like “Vanity,” when he’s working out, “Garden of Exile,” when he relocates to his solitary mansion, and “Get Free,” when he leaves the house. Subtlety is not Beastly‘s strong suit.

Lindy, played by the always adorable Vanessa Hudgens , even goes as far as to say that she prefers “substance over style,” to a pre-cursed Kyle. Hudgens once again proves that she’s more or less delightfully adequate in each role she plays, but for some reason, each of her lines that are meant to have an emotional impact, she delivers them like she’s just a little bit drunk. She finds out her father overdosed and it’s so casual you’d think she were reading the weather report. Oh my God! It’s almost as hilarious as when Pettyfer reads poetry because you can tell he doesn’t understand what he’s reading and the phonetic reading just washes over everyone in the scene.

In the beginning, Pettyfer, as Kyle, does THE MOST to get across that his character is the worst and that he needs to change. The not-so-subtle script helps of course. Even though it’s completely over the top, it’s effective because later when he learns to care about people other than himself, I actually found myself being endeared to his character. Because he starts out so horrible, seeing even this small growth from Kyle made me root for him. Y’know, if Beastly were being made now, I could totally see it being adapted into a miniseries and I bet it would be fantastic! Could you imagine? Eight half hour episodes to properly flesh out the characters, tell the whole story in a moving way, and most importantly, give us the tea on Kendra the teenage witch. Seriously, throughout the entire movie I was like, “okay, but what’s HER story? I wanna know more about Kendra!”

Would I recommend watching Beastly? Sure. Gather up some friends, open a bottle of wine, pop some popcorn and have a good time laughing at it. There may be a lack of chemistry between the leads and the finale may be fairly anti-climactic, but there are just enough, “ooooh, cool, it’s just like the fairy tale but in a teen movie!” moments to make it enjoyable. Also, Kendra is a character I feel like the world needs to become more familiar with.

Have you seen Beastly? What are your favourite fairy tale movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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