Monday, April 22, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Cinderella’ is a Stale but Harmless Trifle


Director: Kay Cannon
Writer: Kay Cannon
Stars: Camilla Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Billy Porter

Synopsis: Our ambitious heroine has big dreams and with the help of her fab Godmother, she perseveres to make them come true.

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There’s nothing inherently wrong with telling the same story on film for the umpteenth time—as long as something of value is done with it, hopefully with a pinch of originality. We all know the story of Cinderella front and back, but filmmakers can make anything feel fresh with well-chosen actors and energetic direction and surprising detours into places new and exciting. The problem with the newest incarnation of Cinderella, written for the screen and directed by Kay Cannon (Blockers), is how creatively stale it is, despite a few clever touches and a game cast.

I can’t remember a time the Cinderella story hasn’t been a part of my life. My first memory ever is watching the 1950 Disney animated classic with my parents at a drive-in, and the classic story has followed me ever since—in middle school with the delightful Brandy-led TV movie, in high school with the more serious and gorgeously rendered Ever After, in college with the cheesy but fun A Cinderella Story, and in graduate school with Kenneth Branagh’s dazzling 2015 adaptation starring Lily James and Cate Blanchett. This is a story I’ve loved since childhood, and I’m always up for a new interpretation.

The new Cinderella, now available on Amazon Prime, isn’t a face-palm disaster like some might make you believe, but it could have been so much more. Camilla Cabello, in her feature film debut, plays the title character. This time not so much desiring a spin around the dance floor with the Prince but wanting to make it on her own in the world of fashion. She lives with her occasionally mean stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) and her mostly nice stepsisters Malvolia (Maddie Baillio) and Narissa (Charlotte Spencer). Yes, there’s a Prince (Nicholas Galitzine) in search of his Princess, and yes, there’s a ball Cinderella wants to attend, and yes, she only has until midnight until the spell by her Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter) will be broken.

You know the gist, so what we need to talk about is what works in this update and what doesn’t, and if there’s a plus in this one, it’s the cast. Cabello is a natural and likable performer—I would love to see her tackle something more daring and contemporary in her next project. Porter is a blast despite his lack of screen-time, and Menzel gives Vivian a shade of compassion not usually seen in the stepmother role. It’s also nice to see a re-telling where Cinderella has ambitions that go beyond being with the Prince, the ending sending her on an empowering journey that doesn’t result in a mere kiss with a colorful backdrop.

But most of the positives end there since, wait, have I mentioned this movie is a musical? A musical that recycles a bunch of famous pop songs from the past few decades and throws them into scene after scene with questionable choreography and little purpose? Yes, if there’s any Cinderella version that aligns closest with the television series Glee, it’s this one—the use of familiar songs gives the movie its most dated quality. If it hadn’t been for Pierce Brosnan’s gray luscious locks, I might have assumed this project had been filmed a decade ago. Sure, the mash-up at the beginning of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” is entertaining, but once the story gets going, stopping things cold to hear the Prince belt out “Somebody to Love” and a frustrated Vivian sing “Material Girl” is mostly cringe-inducing. Not every musical can do what Moulin Rouge did, and this film is the proof.

Other cast members don’t get much to do, especially Brosnan as King Rowan and Minnie Driver as Queen Beatrice in an unlikely Goldeneye reunion. Both actors are so effortlessly charismatic that it’s a shame they’re wasted in this, brief glimpses of their bickering making me wish for an entire movie about them. Galitzine makes a handsome but bland Prince (staying true to the Prince, I guess, from the Disney animated original), and why-oh-why has James Corden showed up now in less than two years in his third movie musical? Watching him transform into a mouse on the carriage is a moment so horrific it should have earned the film a PG-13 rating.

But most of all it’s the lack of originality that keeps this version from soaring. There’s almost nothing here you can’t find in other better interpretations of the story, namely the 2015 Cinderella, still my favorite of the recent Disney live-action reimaginings. There’s a flatness to the cinematography and laziness to the storytelling, with a noticeable lack of tension throughout. And so many of the songs pad the overlong running time with moments that barely scratch the surface of these characters and the world they inhabit. Bewildering moments are abundant—how doesn’t Vivian recognize Cinderella at the ball? How does nobody recognize the Prince when he’s in disguise?—and tone problems clutter the movie, too, with a long and deadly serious conversation toward the end between Cinderella and the Prince feeling of a different movie, one that’s not so mired in fluff.

The new Cinderella is relatively harmless entertainment, and girls under twelve are probably going to love it. Despite its many flaws, it goes down easily, unlike some other 2021 films I’ve reviewed that were downright excruciating to sit through. Cabello is a charming presence on-screen, and there’s something about watching such a nostalgically familiar story that can fill you with warm fuzzies even when you recognize the version you’re consuming is subpar to most others. But if you’re looking for something fresh and modern, look elsewhere, because this film mostly treads on safe ground.

Grade: C-

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