Friday, 7 April 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Micro Review - A Good Case for Brexit

There were precisely five films showing at the cinema that I'd rather have seen than Beauty and the Beast (2017). You know me, I'm the curmudgeon who couldn't possibly enjoy life even if I lived in that Twilight Zone episode where the psychic kid was killing off the miserable bastards. I don't do 'sappy' films: I like my explosions, one-liners, hammy villains, and body horror. But it was date night, so what can you do?

To some degree, however, Beauty and the Beast does feature all of the aforementioned qualities of my favourite films.

Beauty and the Beast is a live-action adaptation of the animated Disney classic Beauty and the Beast (1991), itself an adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale Beauty and the Beast (1756), which was adapted from...oh no, it appears I'm stuck in a loop. I sound like a stammer suffering stand-up comedian trying to tell a joke.

Prior to its release there was a considerable level of hype surrounding this film. Whether you bought into the hype or not largely hinged on your feelings towards Emma Watson, and your nostalgia for the animated version. And whilst I enjoyed the 1991 film, my general disdain of social justice warriors means that Emma Watson does nothing for me. Just look at this fucking quote: "Some critics say that the core proposition of the film is problematic...Emma Watson studied whether Belle is trapped in an abusive relationship with the Beast before signing on". What a bunch of ninnies.

My reaction to seeing Watson's name on a film's billing is not unlike Henry VIII 's upon discovering his date doesn't want kids.

So the tale as 'old as time', because apparently 3.5 billion years ago even the attractive archaea were forming relationships with the uggos. I'm not going to recount the plot because you likely know it, and it's literally outlined in the fucking title. But it's a rather faithful adaptation of the original film and story, unlike Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Slayer. Those dark reimaginings of  classic fairy tales forever chasing The Lord of the Rings' glory like they're a Liam Neeson character trying to get a family member back.

As this is a micro-review, what'll follow is simply a short summary of my feelings regarding Beauty and the Beast.

  • It's still a musical. Not that musicals are all bad - The Wizard of Oz and The Blues Brothers attest to that - but this one is. The songs drag, and I know this is an old man complaint, but between the audio mixing, cinema's speakers, and mumbled French accents, I couldn't make out what the lyrics were half the time.
  • The film is visually stunning, something I'd usually say was a bit of a cop out but for a film like Beauty and the Beast it sticks. From the Rococo-era castle with its Baroque trimmings and ornate decor, to the gloomy forests and hedge mazes, the film captures the brooding elegance of the Gothic in a way I haven't seen since The Haunting remake. Even the outfits are extravagant and well designed - and yes, I'll be handing in my Renegade Maverick card.
  • We're given no real reason to like Belle (Watson). Sure, she loves to read and is somewhat intelligent, but the same can be said of Hitler. Another in a long line of recent films in which the female protagonist is handled with such reverence that you'd think her vagina could recite the entire works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Mind you, if it wasn't for the fact that Beast (Dan Stevens) probably had bollocks like wrecking balls I wouldn't be invested in his story either.
  • The side characters are pretty strong, however, and I found myself enjoying their interactions more than the one between the Beast and Belle. Particularly odious Lothario, Gaston (Luke Evans), who gets all the best lines, is a complete bastard, and adds hammy charm to the film.

  • During the pre-release, a lot of fuss was made about Gaston's sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) being Disney's first gay character. I feared this would be forced for the sake for of it, but all that it really translates to is a few innuendos and a not so subtle song sequence. Essentially, Disney's big LBGT moment boils down to a Smithers-Mr Burns relationship.
  • The ultimate moral of the story is pretty suspect. And I'm not talking about the cop out 'Beast turns attractive' ending that's comparable to how those 80's nerd sex comedies end. Instead I'm referring to the fact that, ultimately, Beast is punished for not letting the old woman shelter in his home. Good for him. That's how you get squatters, friends.
  • It's aggressively French. Gratuitous French accents and French words are abound in a film that's otherwise entirely English speaking. And has Ian fucking McKellen in it. Rather grating after awhile and makes you wonder if Nigel Farage was right about the EU. 

All in all, Beauty and the Beast is a film I found divisive. The parts I was supposed to like (the romance, the two leads, etc) I hated, and much preferred the side stuff (the castle, the secondary characters who consisted mostly of anthropomorphised furniture). It's a visually impressive film, yet lacks the charm which only a hand drawn film can provide. Which probably tells you all you need to know about this adaptation: a somewhat pointless remake in that it can't possibly top the original, which is how Margaret Thatcher fans must feel about Theresa May.

Beauty and the Beast is a rare film in so far that it is decent enough overall, but mostly enjoyable for reasons other than what the director probably intended.

Yes, there's a heart-tugging ballroom dance scene spectacularly lifted from the animated film. And yes, there's a great five minute final confrontation in which the townsfolk fight the Beast's magical furniture. But it's all for nought if the film is let down by the the obvious artifice of the central romance plot. It's like one of those old-school PR stunts were the President kisses a crippled cat, and you just know that he downed a litre of Listerine afterwards.

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