I saw Beauty And The Beast: A Latter-Day Tale completely by chance, but I’m glad I did. Along with Saturday’s Warrior (1989), My Turn On Earth (1986) and Johnny Lingo (1969), it’s one of my favorite LDS films, and I love how it hurts my brain.
If you haven’t already guessed- yes, it’s a contemporary telling of the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast. These modern day re-tellings have become more and more popular over the past twenty years, which I immediately trace back to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996). Once I accept that as fact, I’m like, “Goddamn it, Mr. Luhrmann. Look at what you have wrought.”
For every modern adaptation that brings something new to the table, there are ten that don’t. And then there’s this one, which is hilarious and painfully bizarre. In a way it’s kind of like Fifty Shades Of Grey except no one has sex, there are references to “scripture” and the male lead SPEAKS AND EMOTES IN ALL CAPS AT ALL TIMES.
Now first off: if you’re expecting an actual hairy beast guy, you’ll be disappointed. There is no magic in this movie, just a rich dude who wears ties and yells a lot. In fact, the only thing supernatural is the lighting on his house, which reminds me of President Snow’s Prince mansion in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).
Since this guy spends all of his time yelling he doesn’t have time to garden, so there aren’t roses, just a vase waiting to be knocked over by crazy old Maurice.
This is the set-up, and we’re only about three minutes in. Angry meanyface Eric Landry (Matthew Reese) chews out Belle’s repairman father (Arne Carter) and threatens to terminate his job. Good natured Belle (Summer Naomi Smart) shows up at the mansion to smooth things over, but somehow ends up being his indentured servant, basically doing all of his bitch work for free. As with all semi-abusive fairy tales you immediately think, I smell romance!
It’s totally awesome that Belle decides to put up with this degradation while juggling her job as a dental assistant, taking care of her family and going to college. Especially when she is working for someone who thinks she is the stupidest ever.
“I’m Belle,” she says, introducing herself. “It means beauty?” Eric’s reply is something like, “Whatever.” I’m surprised he doesn’t blow a snotrocket on the desk and point at the door, but apparently he doesn’t want to spoil his repertoire. And oh boy, he is saving up.
One of the best things about Belle’s job is you get to see how Eric’s house makes no goddamn sense. You’re treated to a bunch of unusual rooms that he can throw tantrums in. For example, he asks her to join him in a room that resembles a large walk-in closet full of La-Z-Boys. It’s supposed to be a theater room, but wait… there’s no projector. And there are two bannisters going nowhere…
The crown jewel is his hot tub room, which- as far as I can figure out- seems to be located somewhere in the center of his house. Or is it? Are we on a porch? There is exposed brick, like a facade you see in a cheap Italian restaurant, but why? Also, this rich guy can’t afford pool furniture? What’s with the plush arm chairs? This doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, while you’re trying to get over that mind-fuck the scene quickly disintegrates when Eric spies Belle holding a copy of The Book Of Mormon, something she undoubtedly has four copies of at home but feels compelled to read at work.
“BEAAAYEYUHHH BOOK GOD STUPID LOUD NOISES!” he brays, then throws it into the hot tub. Maybe he assumes it will disintegrate or something.
“How dare you?!” Belle retorts. “You are so mean!” Just a few scenes later, she approaches him with some files he has asked her to critique. What a bad idea. This does nothing but stoke his explosive violent temper.
After tugging them away from her like an upset toddler, he attempts to prove that paper can fly.
This is really hard to swallow when you already know the story. Although this guy is acting like an asshat these two are inevitably going to end up together.
Still, it turns out that Eric might just be the lesser of two evils. Belle’s co-worker Anna (Lindsay Wellington) has a cousin named Craig (Everest Bishop) who definitely has the hots for Belle and is almost always wearing the same thing. For all we know he might be homeless because he eats, lives and breathes stalking a woman who isn’t interested in him. Craig’s main function is to show up unannounced and uninvited, always looking like this:
“Hey Belle, I’m at your work!”
“Hey Belle, I’m at your house!”
“Hey Belle, I’m outside your house!”
“Hey Belle, I’m at your boss’s house!”
“Hey Belle, women don’t talk. Ever.”
You might think I’m throwing out a bunch of punchlines when I’m actually running through most of Craig’s scenes in chronological order. They’re shot like they’re supposed to be the comic relief, but no- they’re straight up creepy. Whenever I’ve watched this with people they go, “Eeughh!” when he first appears onscreen. Those feelings don’t change throughout the film, and the more he shows up the more it seems like a sick joke.
The film also fails with the comic relief of Belle’s little sister, Kelli (Caitlin E.J. Meyer), who pops randomly into scenes to ask Belle stuff like, “What is kissing? How do you do it?”
I guess her function is to hint at the possibility of “love in the air” and being precocious, but instead she reminds me Kimmy Gibbler on Full House. But maybe the effect works. Belle suddenly seems interested in her boss, at least on a personal level. She ends up talking about his past with Eric’s housekeeper, Mrs. Haygood (D. Susan Luty), who- unfortunately- isn’t a singing teapot.
What results is a scene with the craziest eyelines I’ve witnessed on film. By that I mean that Belle walks into a room, leans against a counter and talks to Mrs. Haygood, who is sitting off to her right:
But for some reason Mrs. Haygood looks away from Belle and off to her left… where there is nothing but a wall. This is the director’s fault. And the cinematographer’s. And the actor’s.
After hearing his backstory I can’t exactly describe how Eric and Belle fall in love with each other. It just kind of happens. All I know is that when Eric gives her a look of love it’s like he’s passing long, slow, somewhat pleasurable gas.
Most of their bonding moments are told through montage, because who needs character development, right? All you need are dates where the cheeseburgers are going ham.
In the meantime Mrs. Haygood is watching over them, which isn’t weird at all. What’s weird is that she still isn’t a singing teapot. However you start to wonder if she lives at his house and the story forgot to cover that. I’m wondering, “Are those extra towels hers?”
But alas, this budding romance is under threat. Belle’s father loses his job and it looks like Eric is to blame. This leads to some face slapping and running mascara. It’s like a soap opera train crashes through the plot for half a minute, and it’s everything you’d expect.
In the wake of this catastrophe Eric trudges around his gigantic house, looking confused and with nothing else but his waterlogged Book Of Mormon for company.
No, I wasn’t kidding. And what else? Booze.
“Sweet,” you think, “This movie is finally going to get awesome!” Wrong. This a religious film, remember? And what’s more- this film doesn’t really know how to end itself. And unfortunately it isn’t an explosive car crash. Instead, it’s just more weird stuff, like the fact Eric owns a silver sharpie.
The ending is happy and it turns out that there was nothing to worry about. Not really. Well, unless Craig shows up after the credits, implying there will be Beauty And The Beast 2: Craig’s Face.
Now wouldn’t that be something.