Thursday, March 30, 2017
Beauty and the Beast: A Provincial Remake, But Some New Magic Flickers
Yes and no. Operating under the all-seeing mandate of a corporate overlord, Condon and his screenwriters, Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, have transported the original’s two-dimensional drawings into spit-and-glue live action with a predictable degree of fidelity. This immediately lowers the remake’s ceiling; imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is perhaps the laziest form of filmmaking. Yet this new incarnation of Beauty and the Beast, while expectedly faithful to the original, is not entirely a retread. Narratively, it has some additional backstory, which is arguably extraneous but which nevertheless adds heft to the movie’s thematic interest in the bond between parents and their offspring. Musically, beyond the instantly hummable hits from one of the biggest-selling soundtracks of the ’90s, it exhibits a handful of original songs, several of which are lousy but a few of which are actually pretty good. And of course, it features the services of a litany of estimable British and American actors, who help imbue an otherwise commercial enterprise with artisanal craft.
Most prominently, it has Emma Watson, and that’s a good start. She of course plays Belle, the beautifully odd, plainly beautiful lass who wanders about the agreeably prosaic French village of Villeneuve. In the original, Belle’s purported strangeness and humble background helped distinguish her from the assembly line of Disney princesses, but here, Watson plays her as a fairly conventional heroine—headstrong yet noble, and less interested in matrimony than in literature and education. Belle is a worthy role model for young girls, but she’s also something of a blank slate, and Watson’s performance is consequently reactive. That’s fine—her features remain remarkably expressive, and here, she uses them primarily to convey her perpetual astonishment at the wonders of the world around her.
Unfortunately, he is less adept at staging drama and comedy. Whenever the music stops, Beauty and the Beast tends to move in fits and starts, lurching rather than gliding. As I need scarcely tell you, the movie operates on dual fronts: After searching for her missing father, Maurice (Kevin Kline, and speaking of dissonance, he plays a polite Englishman), Belle finds herself imprisoned within the ominous castle ruled by the Beast (Dan Stevens), a former prince who has been transformed into a horned monster. Meanwhile, back in Villeneuve, the loutish Gaston (Luke Evans, uneven) agitates the townspeople, plotting to commit Maurice to the asylum and obtain Belle’s hand in marriage, even though he’s adored by countless women, not to mention by his sycophantic minion, LeFou (Josh Gad, helpless).
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Condon should have adopted a slavish approach and reconstructed the original shot for shot—that would have resulted in a tale as moldy as grime. Yet by the time Beauty and the Beast reaches the stultifying battle that dominates its hectic third act, you may find yourself questioning the reason for its existence, even as you’re enjoying yourself. Viewed in the right light, this is a perfectly entertaining movie, and visually speaking, it’s downright glamorous. But behind its fair façade, I’m afraid it’s rather off.