Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast.
There are plenty of good castings in the new Beauty and the Beast, but only one can compare to the genius of casting Whitney Houston and Brandy in the multicultural TV-movie version of Cinderella: It’s not Emma Watson, though she really tries her best to make Belle into an appropriately progressive heroine; and it’s not the CGI Beast; the real star of Disney’s new movie is Luke Evans as Gaston. The Welsh actor is marvelously goofy in the role, and he actually manages to out-camp the pompadour wig they make him wear. Finally, Gaston is fun.
In a movie that’s supposed to make you forget about appearances, Evans definitely looks the part. He’s beefy enough to fill out that uniform, and he’s having a great time giving his best Hugh Jackman impression: theatrical, over the top, and totally lovable. He’s so charming that Watson can never manage to be thoroughly repulsed by him (she usually lands somewhere around mild irritation), and so it’s hard to buy him as that atrocious. He’s just a jerk, too self-centered to be really rude. Because the new movie cuts out one of his animated counterpart’s biggest scenes — demanding that Belle marry him then and there, on her doorstep — there’s not a lot to remind you why he’s really the worst she can do.
Because this is family-friendly fare, Gaston can’t be too predatory, and Evans brings a stage humor to the role. (At times he almost seems like he’s winking at the audience.) Many recent fairy-tale retreads spend a lot of time trying to make us empathize with their villains — Maleficient got her own movie, and Emma Stone will soon do the same for Cruella De Vil’s — but this Gaston is just … an asshole. When he takes a second to compliment his own reflection in a mirror, Gaston is the worst pieces of Pinterest advice pasted together into a life-size collage: “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” The gag is that Gaston has only ever needed himself.
Instead of building out Gaston’s character, the movie gives its big character upgrade to Josh Gad’s LeFou. When Gad skips and twirls around that French bar singing “Gaston,” he’s doing it with bags of money in hand. “There’s no man in town as admired as you, you’re everyone’s favorite guy,” he sings, dropping coins into the bar-goers palms and pockets. “Everyone’s awed and inspired by you, and it’s not very hard to see why.” It’s this moment — not that “exclusively gay” one — that stands out: Here’s a crony conjuring up a kingdom his boss can be the master of, but his boss is too entitled to care. It’s Trumpian, really. Especially compared to Beast’s dreary solo tune, it seems like even the narrative secretly prefers Gaston.
In a movie that tries very hard to improve on everything in the original, Evans is the one spot they got it perfect. His human Gaston is all the best parts of the cartoon version, fully realized. And still, he manages to be even more self-obsessed: “Nobody deserves you,” he tells himself in that mirror scene, and this Beauty and the Beast lets you believe him: He’s the movie’s most interesting asset. Evans is too busy luxuriating in Gaston’s own self-importance to commit wholeheartedly to villainy — but then, isn’t a lack of commitment what being a fuccboi is about, no matter the century?