by Sue Penkivech
Director: Daniel Barnz
Release date: March 4, 2011
Running time: 86 minutes
When KV Taylor first approached me to review Beastly, I was at first reluctant. I’d loved the book when I read it last year, and was concerned that the movie version, starring Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens (who I’d hated throughout my daughters’ million viewings of High School Musical), would be disappointing at best.
I was both amazed and excited to discover just how wrong I’d been.
The movie begins with Kyle Kingson (played by Alex Pettyfer) campaigning for the presidency of a committee about which he admittedly cares nothing, but thinks will look good on his college applications. At this point, I was prepared to write off the movie – Kyle’s speech about how it’s more important to look good than to have substance was off-putting and more than a little heavy handed. But I persevered, and was glad that I did.
Enter Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), a pale, fae-like high schooler, who first defaces Kyle’s campaign posters and then disputes his points, observing that Lindy (Vanessa Hudgeons) would’ve been a far superior president but instead ran for Treasurer because she didn’t believe she stood a chance in the popularity contest. Why? Granted, Lindy’s a scholarship student, but she meets Kyle’s superficial criteria – she’s certainly beautiful. In any case, Lindy denies either knowing Kendra or any interest in the presidency. Case closed, and Kyle goes home to be ignored by his image-obsessed anchorman father.
Unfortunately, Kyle decides to get even with Kendra, apologizing for his attitude and inviting her to a formal dance. At first, it’s unclear as to why. At the dance, Kyle’s rebuked by his girlfriend for having bought the wrong type of corsage, offers it instead to Lindy when he congratulates her on winning the Treasurer position, and has his picture taken with Lindy for the school paper. But Kyle’s motivations become clear when Kendra arrives and he publically humiliates her – and she curses him to find out just what it means to be ugly. By the time Kyle returns home, he’s learned; he looks like a bald, veiny, tattooed, punk rock version of his formerly clean-cut self, and Kendra’s voice explains that he will look like that forever, unless he can find someone who will say she loves him before a year is out.
(Personally, at that point I had to wonder why he just didn’t add a few piercings, find some girl at a bar, tell her that he was the lead singer in a band, and promise to put her in his next video. It seemed as if it would’ve saved everyone a lot of trouble. But I’m a cynic at times.)
The next parts of the movie closely follow the Beauty and the Beast story, with modern day modifications. Kyle’s father moves him into another house, to be cared for by their housekeeper Zola (LisaGay Hamilton) until they can figure out what to do. He hires him a tutor as well, a blind man named Will (Neil Patrick Harris), who isn’t afraid to tell Kyle exactly what he thinks of him and his attitude.
Kyle encounters Lindy again when he drug-addict father falls afoul of drug dealer and shoots one – and makes him a deal. He’ll keep quiet about the shooting, and take Lindy and keep her safe. Lindy’s fathert father agrees, and Lindy very reluctantly moves into the house of her father’s “old friend” for her own protection.
And, of course, Kyle (who Lindy now knows as Hunter) learns to care. He worries about Zola’s family, whom she hasn’t seen in years, and the loss of Will’s sight. And about Lindy, who gradually warms towards him, never realizing he’s the same guy she’d known at school (who she admits to him that she was interested in, before he suddenly “disappeared”).
All seems well, until Lindy’s father overdoses. Kyle, while realizing that the year is nearly over, insists that she go to him – and that she go to Manchu Picchu, a trip she’d been saving for and looking forward to for years. He gives her a long love letter as a parting gift, then regrets it when, before reading it, she tells him that she considers him a good friend. Heartbroken, he ignores her calls until Will and Zola prompt him to go and see her off at the airport. Where, in true fairy tale form, she tells him she loves him. And leaves.
But the curse is broken. As a bonus from Kendra, Zola’s children get their green cards and Will’s sight is restored. In a nice twist, when Lindy returns, Kyle goes to meet her – but she blows him off, because she’s looking for Hunter. Only when she calls Hunter and Kyle’s phone rings does she realize the truth. Scenes shown during the credits depict their life together after high school – where they’re very obviously living happily ever after.
There are several notable differences between the movie and the book. The first is the most obvious – while Kyle’s appearance in the movie is certainly odd, he’s definitely no “beast” – no fur or claws, just a lot of veins, scars, and tattoos. Zola, in the book, was actually Kendra in disguise, there to watch over Kyle in the hopes that he’d learn his lesson. By comparison, I rather liked that Zola was a character in her own right, who just legitimately cared about Kyle despite his initially horrible attitude toward her. And finally, the end of the movie shows Kendra at Kyle’s father’s station, having just been hired as his new intern and suggesting that he was her next target. It would have been interesting to see in the ending credits just what had happened there.
In any case, the movie was spectacular, with a great soundtrack that was exactly what you wouldn’t expect in a fantasy film, but which fit it perfectly nonetheless. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Sue Penkivech is a substitute paraeducator, a former school librarian, and an aspiring writer. Her work has been published in Spec the Halls: 2011 Edition, Barren Worlds, Fantastic Pulp Magazine, and the recently released Eighth Day Genesis: A Worldbuilding Codex. She’s prone to rambling on about what she’s reading to anyone who’ll listen – which might be why she has so much time to read! Visit her on the web at suepenkivech.wordpress.com!