2021 | rated PG | starring Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Tallulah Greive, James Corden, Billie Porter | written for the screen and directed by Kay Cannon | 1 hr 53 mins |
The second live action adaptation of Cinderella in 6 years, struggles mightily for a way to differentiate itself from the slew of adaptations this story has inspired. It hits notes we’ve seen before and notes it is mandated to by the modern state of pop culture. It wants to inspire 12 year old girls and rile up trolls on the internet, and very low on that priority list is to entertain. It casts Cuban pop-star Camila Cabello and pretends she isn’t attractive, Pierce Brosnan to embarrass himself, Minnie Driver to do nothing, Billie Porter as the fabulous Godmother to annoy half the audience and James Corden as a singing rat to annoy all of the audience. Cabella is charming enough to spark the film to life and some of the musical numbers are toe-tappers, but most of Cinderella is just competent enough to be a fine flat-line.
You know the story. Ella (Cabello) has a wicked stepmother (Idina Menzel) and 2 wicked stepsisters who keep her locked up in a basement making dresses. Meanwhile the kingdom prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) is pressured by the king (Pierce Brosnan) and queen (Minnie Driver) to marry and prepare to take the crown so they arrange a ball and invite only the most eligible of bachelorettes. After saving a caterpillar, the caterpillar turns into a butterfly and that butterfly turns into Ella’s Fabulous Godmother (Billie Porter) who gives her dress, carriage and rat friends a makeover and send her to the ball where a chance to meet her true love is put up against her own sense of self worth.
Director Kay Cannon’s Cinderella is a medieval crown & castle fantasy that finds its inspiration on Glee-style mashups of anachronistic musical numbers. That mashup is the inch that puts it apart from other anachronistic fairy tale adaptations like A Knight’s Tale, Ella Enchanted and Ever After. We open with a town of peasants singing “Rhythm Nation” and mash that into Ella singing “What A Man” with lyrics that tout their individualism while all collectively working in unison, introducing an issue that the town is somehow a conformist society the movie drops like a hot potato. It spends the entire running time side-eyeing the audience telling us it knows their community is “old fashioned” in a time period when none of it’s traditions was old fashioned. All of the men in the film are oafish buffoons (even our prince and love interest is depicted as a flighty momma’s boy) and all the women are given a fantastical forward-thinking modern sensibility if only someone would listen to their 20th century economic ideas.
Cannon’s Cinderella exists for the same reason as all the other Disney live action remakes – to reconcile our favorite childhood fairy tales that romanticized romance and being swept off your feet by prince charming with modern ideas of gender politics and a pop culture that considers it a virtue for men and women to hate each other. Literally! In this movie our king and queen live in a loveless, bitter marriage and the queen longs to tear him down in front of the kingdom. Idina Menzel sings a toe-tapping version of “Material Girl” before implying she murdered her husband. The film creates a new writer insert character in princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive) who serves basically as the out-of-her-time Doctor Who of the Cinderella universe and by the end of the film Ella and the Robert even refuse to acknowledge they are in a relationship. This thing is about as romantic as a Lars Von Trier movie.
When Cinderella actually does get down to the business of musical numbers it can be kind of fun. It cycles through the cast to give us the sense of an epic, unifying theme. The “Material Girl” sequence is fun. I particularly liked the little twist the movie gives to Ella loosing her shoe, ripping it off to run in comfort and throwing it at a guard. It’s about the most subtle thing in this movie, which is full of Marvel-style winking-at-the-camera one-liners that acknowledge the silliness of the scenario for fear that someone might for a second take the movie they were watching as sincere.
Blessed with a charming lead it doesn’t deserve, Cinderella is an overedited, pandering revisionist fairy tale that follows the modern takes we’ve already seen – as this particular fairy tale was already reconciled in Disney’s 2015 adaptation – and just continues to beat that reconciliation into the ground. How little does Cannon’s Cinderella care for this story? Behold as it writes itself into a corner in an effort to be different before your eyes. In this version Ella and the Prince meet prior to the ball and Ella wants him to notice her so Godmother gives him that power – so he knows who she is at the ball which negates the entire point of finding who fits the glass slipper, a kind of critical piece of Cinderella that this movie completely punts out of it’s way. This movie doesn’t like the Cinderella story – it’s using it.