Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Cinderella

Title: Cinderella

Describe This Movie In One "Work From Home" Lyric:

FIFTH HARMONY: You don't gotta go to work
                               But you gotta put in work
Brief Plot Synopsis: Delusional woman talks to mice, dreams of world where she has equal financial footing with men.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 Asteroids for the Atari 2600 out of 5.
Tagline: "From the screenwriter of Pitch Perfect."


Better Tagline: "At least you can mostly ignore James Corden."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Poor Ella (Camila Cabello) can't catch a break. First, her stepmother (Idina Menzel) is hellbent on marrying her off before she can get her dressmaking business going, and now Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), at the behest of the King (Pierce Brosnan) — though not so much the Queen (Minnie Driver) — is throwing a ball to find his True Love.
"Critical" Analysis: The story of Cinderella has existed, in one form or another, for roughly 2,000 years, making the journey from ancient Greece to Europe, Asia, all the way to Bushwood Country Club. The original versions were in written form, but there have been dozens upon dozens of filmed adaptations, both animated and live-action (the most recent coming out in 2015).

What would studios do without the public domain?

This new iteration, scripted and directed by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect, Blockers), exemplifies the Mamma Mia-zation of musical cinema. Familiar pop songs are mixed up with a scant number of originals (the main tune, "A Million to One," is reprised at least four times), showcasing vocal talents that are by turns established (Cabello and Menzel), surprising (Minnie Driver), and best left forgotten (Galitzine).


Speaking of Pierce Brosnan. Cinderella marks the third time someone has inexplicably allowed the former Remington Steele to burst into song. At least here his vocals are mocked in advance, and somehow Cannon and company knew to avoid Abba.

The first half of Cinderella is anachronistic gobbledegook peppered with awkward mash-ups ("Whatta Man" combined with "Seven Nation Army" is ... something), while the second is belated female empowerment. What highlights there are come courtesy of Tallulah Greive as Robert's sister, the princess Gwen, who pipes up periodically to promote wind power and sensible governing. It's played mostly for laughs, until it isn't, which is part of what makes the end result so confusing.

Cannon has Ella walk the line between entrepreneurship and the traditional fairy tale message of true love, with mixed results. On one hand: cool! This Cinderella champions her own success over romance. On the other: boo! Or at least, that will probably be the reaction of those resenting this new version for quote-unquote rewriting the princess paradigm that's been undergoing a systematic dismantlement since at least 1998's Mulan.

Ella's dreams of fashion success get closer when her "Fab G" (Billy Porter) shows up, though even he can't decide whether his young charge should strike out on her own or rely on the kindness of (rich) strangers. Luckily, at Prince Robert's ball, every attendee's dress is such a grotesque pastel blob, it's no wonder Cinderella's iridescent white number stands out like it does.

Of course, Ella's choice makes more sense when you realize Robert is eerily reminiscent of the aggressively pouty Mordred from Excalibur.

But it's nice of Cannon to give this version a choice between the kind of indolent luxury none but royalty (and Kardashians) generally know and a career pursuing what she loves. And it's funny — though not "ha ha" funny — that a young woman in a movie set in pre-industrial times has more autonomy than one living in Texas today.

Cinderella is in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime Video today.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar