Daniel Barnz’s Beastly tries really hard to make us believe that beautiful people are missing the point that there’s so much more to life than being, to quote Derek Zoolander, “really, really, ridiculously good-looking.” In a speech by Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) to his high school classmates, after a montage of him working out shirtless in a fancy Manhattan apartment, he implores them to cast their votes for him as class president on the sole merit of his wealth and abundant sexiness; we’re exposed very quickly to the self-righteous entitlement frequently exhibited by people who can afford to be assholes. They win elections and they get the girl, and despite its seemingly good intentions, Beastly doesn’t ultimately paint much of an alternative picture. But luckily we have Mary-Kate Olsen as Kendra, the witch who curses Kyle with a hideous outward appearance as punishment for his flagrant cockiness, providing enough campy fun (and Gaga-esque outfitting) to keep you awake while the rest of the movie flails around aimlessly, never managing to grab onto anything substantial.
The sheer absurdity of much of the film’s plot provides the bulk of the entertainment. When Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) moves in with Kyle (disguised as “Hunter” and exiled to Brooklyn by his superficial dad, who just can’t seem to deal with his son’s new look) after her life is threatened by a drug dealer whose brother has just been shot dead by Lindy’s addict father, we mostly just hang around to see what ludicrous twist is around the next corner. This allows moments such as when Kyle appeases Lindy’s petulance about leaving her old life behind by offering her some Jujyfruits, which he know she likes because she randomly buys them when he spies on her earlier in the film, to actually work. But the whole thing falls apart if you ask too many questions, and the nonsensical events and situations in Beastly function as pretty distractions as the film glosses frantically and desperately over the surface, trying to keep us from realizing how thin the ice actually is.
For a movie that’s apparently trying to teach an appreciation of inner beauty, there are actually no ugly people in sight—except of course for the “beastly” version of Kyle, but even his hideous scars seem sort of hot as he morphs into such a nice guy. Lindy’s relief is palpable after Kyle succeeds in winning her love and then transforms back into his old sexy self, and I’m reminded of how the phrase “easy on the eyes” implies that looking at someone less than beautiful is somehow difficult, requiring more effort than the likes of Pettyfer normally ask of us. It’s certainly difficult to earnestly sit through a movie as flimsy as Beastly, but only if you’re expecting more than what it actually delivers. When Neil Patrick Harris makes his unfortunate appearance as Kyle’s blind-but-trendy tutor, we’ve already figured out that Beastly is bursting with mixed messages—but we’ve also stopped caring.
This is Beauty and the Beast for the Twilight generation; they’ve paid for abs and sparkles, and they insist on getting their money’s worth. During a particularly suggestive scene at the screening I attended, a guy in the audience excitedly yelled “Holla!” at the top of his lungs in a true celebration of submitting to our baser instincts. In a movie about how beauty is only skin-deep, all we want to see is skin.