Review: A vigorously awakened “Cinderella” for the #MeToo era
Their love declared, their fairytale kiss fulfilled, Cinderella has an urgent request for her Prince. Can she get a lift to her business meeting?
And so, as princes are in the habit of doing, he snatches her new love from her to carry her to his horse. But, like, she’s in a hurry. “No, I can walk, it’s faster,” she chirps. “But thanks!”
It’s a throwaway moment but perhaps a fine example of the strengths and weaknesses of this decidedly awakened pop music-infused new “Cinderella” for the #MeToo era, written and directed by Kay Cannon (and co-produced by James Corden, who doubles as a mouse). A feminist rethink of the familiar story is welcome, of course, but the script focuses so emphatically on its message of empowering women that it sometimes feels like we’re getting caught up in our heads.
Fortunately, there are also moments, like this, that are saved by a playful chemistry between our enticing tracks: exuberant pop singer Camila Cabello as Cinderella and newcomer Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Robert. The supporting roles get playful training from pros like Pierce Brosnan as King – doing anything for the comedy – and a touching but underused Minnie Driver as the Smothered Queen.
Billy Porter also stars as the fabulous fairy godmother (“Fab G”), but alas, this is just one scene plus a bit of storytelling. As always, Porter knows how to make an entrance, but for the most effective use of a star here, look over to Idina Menzel, who gives texture to the usually “nasty” stepmom a note. And, of course, his bugle voice – which we can objectively say is the best in the land.
The most obvious problem with updating “Cinderella” for a 2021 audience is, of course, its premise that for a woman, getting married is the only goal; Life is lived through your man, whether you are Cinderella, the stepmother Vivian (Menzel), the half-sisters Malvolia and Narissa (Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer) or the queen (Driver).
Cannon solves this by having Cinderella – her name is Ella here, because why define a girl by ashes on her face? – does not dream of marriage but of commercial success, as a designer. In a first issue, the maid comes face to face with her imaginary future, and she is not royalty – she is the owner of “Dresses By Ella”.
But it is a dream of too far. In this kingdom, women do not run businesses. Everyone says it, especially Vivian who, we learn, also dreamed of one day to be more than a wife. We feel early on that Vivian’s cruelty – less cartoonish than in other versions – stems from deep personal disappointment, and that her fierce desire to marry her daughters was born out of bitter pragmatism.
This nuance serves the film’s message well, but the characterizations can be confusing. It’s kind of shocking to go from a moment when Vivian seems to really care about Ella, to one where she viciously throws ink on the dress she spent weeks designing. It’s also hard to identify stepsisters – are they mean or not? In any case, they only receive kindness from Ella. When asked if she is pretty, Ella says yes, but adds, “What matters is how YOU feel when you look at yourself in the mirror.”
The plot is advancing with great strides, narrated in part by the Town Rapper, who announces the ball where Robert will choose a wife. A loving Robert has already met Ella in disguise and convinces her to attend the ball so that she can meet potential wealthy clients.
As we already know, the evil stepmom will keep ALMOST Cinderella from the ball. And the fairy godmother – sorry, Fab G – will intervene. And the clock will strike midnight, a glass slipper will be lost, and the prince will go looking.
We won’t go into more details, but there’s nothing so drastic here that people won’t end up with Happily Ever After. However, if there is a slogan here, it is not this one: it is “I choose myself”.
If only this admirable message weren’t reinforced so fiercely, and the laughs heard weren’t so rare. Among those laughs is a good one on shoes, in which Ella complains to Fab G about the uncomfortable glass slippers. These are women’s shoes, answers Fab G: “Magic has its limits.
So, alas, made this new “Cinderella”. But no matter how well it lives up to its predecessors (and inevitable future iterations), you can’t dispute the lesson – for young people of all sexes – that your fate is in your own hands, not in your own hands. those of someone who chooses to take you magnanimously from your own story and place you in theirs.
“Cinderella,” a version of Amazon Studios, has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for its suggestive material and language.” Duration: 113 minutes. Two out of four stars.
MPAA definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested, some content may not be suitable for children.