Beauty and the Beast (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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It's a tale as old as time.  Belle gives up her freedom to keep her father safe from a horrific beast.  But the beast is more than he seems, and Belle's good heart might be the key to breaking the curse that made him the frightening sight he is.  Bill Condon directs Beauty and the Beast, with the screenplay written by Steven Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, and stars Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the most bizarre flops of a fantasy I have ever seen.  Disney hasn't been gun-shy about its remakes or side-stories as of late, and the results - until this point - have been on the positive side.  Cinderella revealed a quirky heart shortly before half of its run-time concluded and Maleficent packed a surprising wallop in its cautious depiction of sexual violence.  With Bill Condon handling the direction, I even went into this live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast with hope as he pushed the camp into overdrive for the last two Twilight films.

There are moments in Beauty and the Beast where the playful side of Condon comes out and I can tolerate what's onscreen.  The rest of the time I sat in a sort of disgusted awe at this disastrous the clash of Condon's camp and the drive to make a heartfelt musical.  Almost all the problems with Beauty and the Beast pare down to this clash of tones.  While Condon's off making psychedelic tea parties, Emma Watson's doing god knows what with her performance of Belle, and Dan Sevens' Beast shows up to roll his eyes at the silly melodrama of it all in what I'm almost convinced is a Condon avatar for directing this film.

Beauty and the Beast is so poor not even fractal tea kettle psychedelia can save it.

It's rarely good, but when the pieces align and I feel more of Condon's influence kick in the results are deliriously entertaining.  His direction of "Be Our Guest" combines classic Busby Berkeley dancing arrangements with insane backdrops of what can only be described as fractal tea kettles while the insane display fails to overwhelm Belle.  The sequence is also a bit ugly, but fascinatingly so as the designs of Lumière (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellan) are taken to their creative limit with their shifting innards and finely polished outer shells looking like an affront to nature in motion.  That's without getting into the painted on facial movements of Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), whose dead smile reminds me of a Mrs. Butterworth figure ghoulishly trapped in a 2-dimensional space.

There are hints of that edge in the opening sequence as well as the still-human Prince leads a procession of identically painted women in perfectly mimicked dance moves.  The Prince's makeup artist goes a bit heavy on the black under his eyelids, making him look like a serpent in the midst of willing prey while the musical accompaniment sings he could have whoever he wants.  It's the closest thing to a kid-friendly version of the masquerade ball of Eyes Wide Shut that may ever be created.  My folly was in thinking Condon capable of keeping up this degree of weirdness throughout Beauty and the Beast.

I can't place Beauty and the Beast's failure entirely on him, but he's way out of his element in the musical sequences that involve at least 80% non-transformed humans.  That's most of the run-time, and the stiff blocking combined with the halting singing voices give tear themselves apart over whether this is supposed to be sincere or silly.  Combining the two was a terrible decision.  This is most notable in the unusually flat "Gaston" scene.  Gaston (Luke Evans) is a tiny part of a wide frame, emphasizing not a lick of the supposed greatness everyone sings about him, and aided little by Evans' just shy of confident performance.  Even Gaston's lackey LeFou outshines Gaston thanks to Josh Gad's flirty take on the little guy.

Then there's Watson's Belle which must have looked like a sure-fire thing on paper only for her to turn up and do...whatever it is she's doing with her performance.  She gives little side-glances to the camera that threaten to break the fourth-wall of illusion, then in the next breath is in total focused despair over her father (Kevin Kline), and arcs her eyebrows so many times during "Belle" I swear she was paid based on a per brow-raise basis.  Watson can be phenomenal outside these magical roles with her work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower a standout.  But here, with her all over the place mannerisms, I shared some of Stevens' weary resignation as he sighed over Romeo and Juliet being Belle's favorite Shakespeare play.

Even when Gaston gets the frame to himself, it's less about sharing his vision of greatness and more making seem tiny compared to something else.

The final nail in Beauty and the Beast's bizarre coffin of failure is the screenplay by Steven Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos.  The former is responsible for both the movie and novel versions of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the latter direct-to-DVD Tinkerbell movies and the awful Brett Ratner Hercules from 2014.  If I had to guess, I'd say the part where Mrs. Potts no-joke handwaves away Beast's horrible attitude with, "Well he was rich and had a bad dad so we didn't do anything," is more on Spiliotopoulos than Chbosky.  Even then, the switch between grim battles and sarcastic sighs highlight yet another clash in tones for an already confused production.

Condon's scant visual successes in Beauty and the Beast put me tantalizingly close to imagining how good it might have been had he adapted the story instead of giving the '91 animated version a live-action remake.  Granted, he might not have had the funds to make those few successful spectacles, but it might have been a more consistently weird product.  Jamming a talent like Condon into the respectful remake mold had little chance in succeeding.  Tea kettle psychedelia aside, this is the worst version of Beauty and the Beast I've seen.

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Directed by Bill Condon.
Screenplay written by Steven Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos.
Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

Posted by Andrew

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