Beauty and the Beast (2017)

There is a world full of film bloggers who dislike the whole idea of live action remakes or reboots of classic animation films. They regularly let it be known that there is no need for a live action film, that the existing version is excellent and, “gasp”, the production of such a movie is a money grab. Well those are all ideas that I can sometimes understand, they often get bandied about without regard to the product for which those comments are intended. I try to hold my opinion until I see each film and I do my best to judge it by it’s own merits. That goal is exceptionally hard to achieve with the current “Beauty and the Beast”. The animated film from 1991 is beloved by many, and I include myself in that group. It holds a pivotal place in my nostalgia file, since my kids were the perfect ages to see that film when it came out and we lived on a steady diet of “B & B” video watches for almost five years. Although I try to avoid other reviews and certainly spoilers on line, it is hard to exclude them entirely, and I’d heard one of the regular guests on the Lambcast, knock this version for being lifeless. So although I wanted this film to be a success, it was with some slight trepidation that I approached the screening. To put it mildly, there is nothing to worry about, this film is solid.

 

The legend of the original animated design of Belle was that they wanted her to resemble Julia Roberts. I think we can dispense with that image. Emma Watson is a fantastic fit as the heroine of this story. She has the pluckiness that we want out proto-feminist character to deliver and the charm that we remember. I think her voice is very solid as a singer and the big numbers at the beginning of the movie are carried off with aplomb. She also seemed to develop some chemistry with the Beast, through hard work as an actor in some pretty well filled out sections of the film. The transformation from antagonist to friend and love interest was very believable in this version of the movie. I also thought her relationship with her father was more adult like and based in a long standing status rather than just being patronizing.

There are places in the film where there are additions to the well known story that I think work, but there are also a couple that seem unnecessary. I don’t know that the enchantress that places a spell on the castle and town, needs to be a character after the first sequence. I did like the fact that the town was included in the enchantment, which helps to explain a couple of minor inconsistencies in the ’91 animated film. The character of LeFou changes in a couple of ways. Much has been made of the character’s “identification”, and those that are bothered by that sort of thing will probably ind the slight bit of humor related to that offensive. I wonder if that alteration is the justification for turning the character into a more sympathetic figure toward the end of the film. As if an orientation transplant also requires a morality defense. It’s just a thought I had as I was considering the whole film. It doesn’t qualify or disqualify the movie for me.

 

Here and there are minor changes in scene and blocking. Gaston, as played very effectively by Luke Evans, is introduced in much the same manner but already as a suitor for Belle, in fact she has turned him down before. Their interactions have less of the comic effect than the animated film was able to achieve, and that is a small drawback, but the back story of Gaston as a soldier¬† makes some of his attitudes a little more sensible. His temper issue, which replaces the blackmail into marriage strategy of the animated version, is a lot more logical and it also justifies LeFou a bit more.¬† Another set of background issues concerns Maurice, Belle’s Father played by Kevin Kline. Instead of being an inventor, he is an artist, and some of his work is mechanical like clock making. I suppose it makes sense to enlarge the part if you are going to expand the film and hire an actor of this stature, but I don’t know that we needed to know all the history of their departure from Paris to the provincial areas.

The Beast himself, is seen early on as an adult, although they disguise his appearance a little for the reveal at the end. This was another place where the story gets expanded. It seems the young Prince, when denied maternal oversight became a reflection of his father. Not much was told to us about all of that, but because we get a little more of his origins, the library becomes more important as a way of connecting Belle and he. One of the minor criticisms of the animated film is the quick step to love that occurs. I think this is a little more realistic in timing, although it still happens faster than one might expect.

I may be an outlier on this film. On the podcast that I was a guest on today, two of the other participants were quite harsh in their judgments and the other was mildly enthusiastic. I’m all in, so take that for what it is worth. If you are interested in hearing the discussion, I will be posting a link when the podcast gets published. Until then, you are invited to be my guest, and enjoy this tale as old as time, without worrying that all those little people in the provincial town you find yourself in, will judge you too harshly.

Ricki and the Flash

This will be brief because there is not much to say about the film. It is not particularly deep, the story goes exactly where you expect it to, and there was not anything outstanding in the way the film is put together. As I said to my companions afterwards, “There is a reason this is playing in August and not November”. Normally, Meryl Streep would be a magnet to draw some attention for a film, but she gives one of the least effective performances I’ve seen her do. She is not bad, but there is nothing special about her work except that she looks like she managed to learn to play some guitar.

The elements of the film that I thought were worthy include Ricki’s confrontation with the step-mother of her now adult children. Both Meryl and Audra MacDonald sold this scene with understated fury and resentment. That’s about as far as any fireworks there are in the movie. Rick Springfield not only holds his own with Marvelous Meryl, but seems to be more of a real character than her weary and frayed Rock wannabe. There was also some effective lampooning of “Whole Foods” market and weddings planned by environmental citizens. Both subject provided a couple of chuckles in the film.

Kevin Kline is largely wasted as Ricki’s ex husband. His character comes across as ineffectual and mostly there to make the phone call that brings Ricki back to the family she is estranged from. Mamie Gummer looks like she could be Meryl’s daughter (oh wait, she is, good casting), she should have had a lot more to do in the story since her character is the principle engine that drives the premise of family reunion. She has one scene where she is a complete bitch, and then two scenes where she is silently a needy child again. Because the story is so conventional, she has nowhere to go.

The music in the film is fine. It largely plays to the older audience that the movie seems to be targeted at. There are a lot of stage performance sequences and they sound competent. Rick Springfield and the other guys are professional musicians so that makes sense. Ricki never made the big time, but you can see that she loves the music. I’m not sure why it was necessary to have everyone at the weddding climax of the film act as if she had a social disease. The awkwardness that some of the scenes create is artificial because the extras and the rest of the cast are directed to be dumbfounded by her presence and actions, and we can’t tell why they would feel that way.

You can tell that there was just not as much here as there ought to be by looking at the lazy poster. Photoshopped Meryl and a tagline that tells you almost nothing.This is a very average movie that is not embarrassing but not something you would ever want to see a second time. I did not dislike it as much as I remained mostly indifferent to it. The screenwriter Diablo Cody did give us a couple of good lines. I liked the philosophy that it’s not your kids job to love you, it’s your job to love your kids. Had there been a little bit more of the family dynamic and a little bit less concert footage, the film would be better, but still not a great movie, just one that would be more worthy.