The film: Beastly (2011)
Does Montreal play itself? Montreal is standing in for New York, which is often CGI’d in in the background.
Notable local talent: An unnecessarily large amount of this movie is just the three or four main characters sitting around inside, which doesn’t leave much room for tertiary characters. Roc Lafortune shows up as Vanessa Hudgens’ junkie dad and David Francis has what probably amounts to the most lines by a local actor as the plastic surgeon who reveals he cannot “de-beast” our protagonist.
Most egregious local landmarks: As it turns out, something like 80 per cent of the movie is set indoors, which means that recognizable exteriors are few and far between. To add to the confusion, lots of B-roll footage of New York is used in establishing shots, and most of the exterior shots are of the protagonist stalking around at night being emo, which makes it hard to figure out where the movie is taking place. We consistently see the same stretch of Milton Street being used and the exterior of the protagonist’s “suburban hovel” is on Ste-Famille. There’s also a glimpse of a cobblestone street — presumably St-Paul. (Also, based on the credits, at least one of the locations is Laval’s defunct Moomba Supperclub.)
What, exactly, is redemption supposed to look like? Redemption, in its broadest strokes, is at the heart of a lot of narratives — lots of movies are about learning to be a better person through a series of events that said protagonist in need of redemption may or may not be responsible for. But watching Beastly — a takeoff on Beauty and the Beast that quite honestly owes more to It’s a Wonderful Life, at least in its early stages — really brought me to the edge. Is redemption automatic? Do you need to learn anything to be redeemed, or do you just need to be around long enough?
The protagonist at the centre of Beastly is the kind of irredeemable arrogant asshole that usually only makes it into movies to be an obvious tertiary foil for the main character; he’s a rich mop-topped bro who runs for student council president on the basis that he is more attractive than anyone else running, and therefore deserves power more than anyone else, even if he’s pretty open about the fact that he has no platform or desire to actually do the job he’ll be elected to. In any other movie, he’d be the toady assistant to the evil land developer who falls into a pond full of raw sewage at the end of the film. He’s drawn so cartoonishly, we assume, because it will make his redemption arc all the more clear.
All we know about Kyle Kingson (played by quarterback-forced-to-join-the-drama-club aplomb by Alex Pettyfer) before he’s cursed by a Goth witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) to unspeakable ugliness (read: a bald pate and some elaborate scarring) is that he fucking sucks and everyone, for some reason, loves him for it. The source of all of his terribleness is the fact that his hotshot, multi-billionaire news anchor father (Peter Krause) has always told him that looks are the only thing that matter to get ahead in life.
This attitude has in turn led Kingson to bully a classmate who turns out to be a witch and who curses him with unspeakable ugliness for one year. The only cure to said ugliness is to have someone tell him that they love him, otherwise he remains disfigured forever. To add insult to injury, Kyle’s father wants nothing to do with him and rents a huge house “out of the city” (though it very much appears to be in the city, who am I to contradict Peter Krause?) for him to hide out in with his maid (LisaGay Hamilton) and blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris). Seemingly unrecognizable, Kyle wanders around the city and hears his former friends (Dakota Johnson and Erik Knudsen) talk shit about him and reveal they never really liked him, while troubled classmate Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), whom he periodically talked to as a “pity mack,” becomes not only enamored with Kyle’s new identity but reveals that she liked the original asshole Kyle because he called them as he saw them. After Lindy’s dad (Roc Lafortune) gets into some trouble, Kyle (or Hunter, as his beast-mode version is known) convinces her to move in with him for her protection, which in turn ushers in the beginning of a very questionable love affair.
Granted, this logline is no more preposterous than the one for Beauty and the Beast, but the streamlining of the elements here is so merciless than Beastly begins as unbelievable nonsense and only becomes more alienating as it goes along. From minute one, Beastly asks a lot of us. It asks us to believe in the redemptive arc of a guy who not only seems like an oblivious idiot but one that straight-up points out his idiocy. It then asks us to somehow forgive him for this idiocy (the only thing we’ve seen him do so far) because his dad is, by most measures, an even bigger idiot. By the time the transformation is complete, the viewer should have absolutely no sympathy left for Kyle Kingson — and that’s where the movie begins.
Most of Beastly is turgid post-Twilight teen romance of the overstated variety, the kind of film that throws around concepts of love and honesty and selflessness so much that they stop making much sense as words about halfway through. Kyle’s redemption goes through his own education — he learns that looks aren’t all that matter, because his tutor is blind and, by his own admission, he gets lots of chicks! But that education, it seems, would likely happen even if he just sat in his room and thought about what an asshole he was. The love story manages to be at once stuffed in every single second of the movie and perfunctory at best, a foregone conclusion that the film painstakingly makes its way to, inch by inch.
Frankly, it’s difficult to look at Beastly and find anything remotely resembling human emotion or even comprehension of human emotion by a third-party lifeform. At best — and I mean this in the literal sense of “in its best moments” — Beastly comes across like a writing assignment done by a teenager who has completely forgotten their homework and is hastily trying to recall the plot of something (just something, anything) they’ve seen before. The building blocks of a story are there, but everything else seems approximative — a guess as to what comes next, every step of the way. Early on, when Kyle gives his fabled speech about how everything is easier when you’re good-looking, he unleashes his campaign slogan: “Embrace the suck.” The slogan is later re-used by Olsen’s character; at that point, you have to imagine they were following their own advice. ■
Beastly is currently streaming on Netflix. See more about the film here.
See previous editions of Made in MTL here.
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