Beastly is a retelling of the classic fairytale in which a man is aptly punished for his arrogance by having his face remodeled in a most hideous fashion. It’s a good reminder to all, when we are tempted to believe we belong to the "beautiful people" group, that such vanity can rob us of any outward attractiveness we might possess. While the story is familiar, this enchanted encounter does not include any animated singing teacups or candlesticks with French accents.
Set in the modern-day, this live-action version centers on the social circles of a private New York high school where a supercilious young man named Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is running for student body president. His platform? He’s handsome! (That alone should qualify him for the job.) And in this high-tech institution of steel, glass and parents’ credit cards, it appears he has a significant following—including Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), a sweet girl too insignificant to even create a blip on his radar.
We quickly discover the source of Kyle’s conceit when we meet his equally narcissistic father Rob (Peter Krause), a television news anchorman who gives his son just a moment of his attention—and then only after the teen sends him a text from across the kitchen.
Knowing full well how this story will proceed, it is no shock when the plot elements rapidly evolve to knock Kyle from his precarious position on his pride pedestal. That comeuppance is delivered by another student at his school (Mary-Kate Olsen). Embracing Goth fashion as a religion, the witch casts a spell on the self-centered senior and gives him a makeover that would take a week to achieve at a tattoo parlor. (Sadly, with the current popularity of all things pierced and inked, some may consider his new look to be quite trendy.)
Now the script must wrangle with a strange conflict of fantasy and reality.
Appalled at his son’s altered appearance, Rob makes a futile effort to seek medical help. But nothing can be done. Heeding the boy’s wishes to be left alone, he arranges for a home in New Jersey—a modest little mansion—where Kyle can recover and hopefully complete the one task that will remove the curse: Find a girl who will express her love for him despite his disfigurement. To help him through this difficult time, and to make sure he is clothed, fed and schooled, his life-long nanny (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) are also sequestered in the castle.
Fairytales have never been subtle when delivering their moral messages, and this film is no different with its heavy-handed lessons about perceived beauty and body image. The opening scenes show billboards of topless men and women (no explicit female nudity is seen) to set the stage of just how fixated on style society has become. It also dips into more profanities than necessary, along with some crude sexual remarks, in what seems to be a ploy to be cooler for its intended audience.
In the end, do the dangers of judging a person by their outward appearance come through? Yes and no. Considering the plain, overlooked girl who (surprise, surprise) will become his romantic interest is played by the beautiful and popular actress Vanessa Hudgens, it is easy to argue that Kyle hasn’t learned a thing. However, the many conversations that occur before the predictable ending do provide evidence of a change of perspective. And that shift in thinking alone may make this Beast worth spending some time with.