Cinderella, the centuries-old folk tale, gets a woke makeover in writer-director Kay Cannon’s (the PITCH PERFECT series) film of the same name.
In this version, Ella (pop singer Camila Cabello), the put-upon stepdaughter of the not-so-wicked, piano playing Vivian (Idina Menzel, the FROZEN films), toils away in her cellar bedroom/workshop dreaming of bigger things in life. No, she’s not waiting for her prince to come and rescue her from her miserable existence. This Ella has ambitions to be a successful dress designer. Vivian, however, along with her two mildly charmless daughters, has other plans for the young woman, as they sing Madonna’s “Material Girl”. (Yes, you read that right.) Meanwhile, at the palace, Prince Robert (Nicolas Galitzine, HIGH STRUNG) doesn’t dream of doing much of anything other than hanging out with his three “bros”, much to the consternation of his father, King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan), as Robert and the honour guard sing Queen’s “Somebody To Love”. (Yes, you read that right too.) But the king’s word is final and he organizes a ball for Robert to choose a wife from among all the single women in the land near and far. Ella, of course, isn’t allowed to attend the ball but, thanks to her Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter), she does, wearing the most beautiful dress ever — one of her designs — along with glass pumps that would make Jimmy Choo blush, a horse-drawn carriage and three mice turned into horsemen, one of them being James Corden because, of course, he has to be in this film. (He’s also one of the film’s producers.) The rest would be history except it’s not in this version.
I get that the traditional Cinderella story can be problematic for today’s young women but I don’t think this female empowerment version is an improvement unless, perhaps, you’re a fan of TV’s GLEE and PROJECT RUNWAY. Cannon throws in quite a few other former Top 10 hits for Cabello et al to belt out including Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation”; Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star”; and Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”, but in between the songs and all the hip-hop neck isolation movements, the film slumbers along with clunky dialogue and modern witticisms that land with a thud, most of which being inflicted on Robert’s much-ignored sister, Princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive, OUR LADIES) — oh yes, he has a sister in this version and if anyone has a reason to be wicked, it should be her. Gwen fancies herself an environmentalist who would green up the kingdom if given half a chance. She can’t, however, for while many things about this CINDERELLA have a modern bent (such as funky dance numbers and store signage written in simplified Chinese characters, which is a mid-20th century innovation), it is firmly rooted in the past where women do not rule… at least not until Queen Beatrice (a wasted Minnie Driver) puts her royal foot down on centuries of patriarchy.
If you can pick your jaw off the ground long enough, you might notice that Cabello’s performance is the least offensive of all of them and she displays a pleasant amount of acting talent. Corden, Brosnan and Greive are at the other end of the scale. At least everyone who is supposed to be able to sing, can, and Brosnan, who can’t, sends himself up quite well when he serenades Driver. The biggest problem with this revisionist story, though, happens after the clock strikes midnight. After spending 90 minutes singing and dancing about wanting to have an independent life, Ella can’t very well be expected to give up on her dreams for a man even if he is a wealthy and dashing prince. Here is where Cannon paints herself in a corner and has to pervert the Cinderella story to fit the new narrative. It all becomes too convenient and it makes one wonder whether Ella and Prince Robert’s modern relationship will last longer than their voyage to Ella’s new career overseas.
Some things are best left as is and CINDERELLA is prime evidence of that. It’s available now on Amazon Prime Video if you’re looking to punish yourself.
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