Teenage high school romance Beastly is not a deep movie. But it sneakily plays up to the acceptance values and uniform of subculture aesthetics…

Our scars give us character. We all carry our own brand of hurting, wounds set upon us by the nature of life. Each one of us heals in their own way, dictating the landscape of our hearts. It is that texture that not only differentiates us from others but makes us the people we are. If we can come to accept those scars and find value in the experiences we have endured, we open ourselves up to others who accept us for our scars and love us for the person we choose to be.

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This was, I gather, the intended message in the ‘Beastly’ movie. We’re presented with a protagonist raised to believe that appearance is everything, the true measure of worth. Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) is a detestable person who receives so much social affirmation there’s little reason for him to change. Magic throws a plot device into the works when Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), a girl he humiliated a high school dance, reveals herself to be a witch. She curses him, makes him “ugly” and gives him a year to find someone who’ll say they love him. Unable to deal with his own reflection, Kyle becomes a recluse save for his maid and blind tutor. He starts to stalk the one person who spoke kindly of his former personality, Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens); now that vampires have become so cool, stalking has become the bread and butter of budding romances. One night he saves her and her father, but when the altercation results in a murder, she goes to stay with him for her own safety. Well that’s how he sells it in any event. In mutual seclusion they start to reveal their vulnerabilities to each other, Kyle eventually learns humility and compassion, and the curse is lifted. The story arc seems simple, mostly because it is. Everything you expect this movie to be? It is.

But what I found strange, and I am not alone in this, is how much more appealing Kyle was when he was disfigured. If anything, it gave him character. I can understand how it was a traumatic change for him, but still. What it really highlighted was not so much the intrinsic value of the individual, but more the artificial standards our society places on certain aesthetics. There are many subcultures that would have seen his transformation as an improvement. Yet those subcultures have their own rituals of acceptance. I know an extremely talented artist who might not get an apprenticeship at a tattoo parlour because she herself does not want tattoos. Socially we attribute value to individuals based on their appearance. It communicates your role, your function. We have to adorn ourselves with social uniforms. What he experiences was the loss of his role in the society that held him in such high esteem.

It is in that social isolation that this movie makes its statement about love and the construction of identity. Good love (I dare not say true for I doubt love can be false even if it is bad) is felt between two people outside of the external expectations placed upon them. When they can be only in each other’s arms and not feel alone; share their suffering, not for pity, but to have it witnessed with compassionate eyes. No matter who you are, you will be hurt in some fashion, and that will affect you. The real trick is finding someone who can love you for it.

The movie rushes the ending, and has the clich├ęd moment were the guy says something heartwarming based on a personal moment they shared. Is it a bad movie? No. Was I impressed? No. Even Neil Patrick Harris was just a blind Barney. Don’t expect fireworks