Cinderella Review×0

PLOT: A new spin on the classic story finds Ella dreaming of escaping her stepmother by becoming a successful fashion designer.

REVIEW: I can’t deny how there were several moments throughout the entirety of Cinderella that gave me the simple joy of laughing out loud, nor can I deny how that joy would often make harsh turns into pure aggravation. With both a script that consistently and sharply pokes fun at the period-fantasy-romance genre and a cast that’s both willing and able to embrace the parody and opportunity to modernize a classic tale, none of it is quite a match for exhausting, shoehorned musical numbers that can’t mask an overall failure to buck romantic comedy formula that feels painfully one-note with nothing actually new to say. 

Whether it’s from the popular Disney adaptations of the fairy tale or the other efforts taking advantage of the public domain, you likely know the story of “Cinderella”. Young girl, wicked stepmother, fairy godmother, glass slipper – GASP – back by midnight, the prince finds her, happily ever after. This new take from writer/director Kay Cannon (sharing story credit with James Corden) stars pop star Camilla Cabello as Ella, who instead of dreaming of being whisked away into the arms of a prince wants nothing more than to carve out her own path as a fashion designer. Cannon doesn’t mince her intentions in establishing this version of the character as an embodiment of the #girlboss ideology that, unfortunately, at this point seems more pandering than progressive.

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Ella has big dreams to make a name for herself, but beyond those goals and seeing the ridiculousness of going to a ball to find a suitor, there are no attempts to give her depth or anything profound to say to young, female viewers. There’s not even any real motivation behind why being a fashion designer with her own business is so important to her. When she has a chance encounter with Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) while trying to sell her dress at the market – and being mocked by the townspeople as a lady business person – she mentions how a brooch she worked into the dress once belonged to her mother. In that moment you get a brief look into her past that could’ve potentially shaped her present, but that’s about as far as that angle goes. 

Where Cannon – who also wrote the Pitch Perfect movies and directed the hilarious Blockers – feels more confident and able to provide a needed spin on the material is in the self-aware, broad sense of humor. Her work shines brightest when she’s making fun of all the hallmarks of the period-fantasy-romance genre – like the actually-gross suitor who uses a cane just to get chicks, or how princes only seem to be good for fox hunting while drunk or saying huzzah without knowing what it means. There is an antiquated methodology to many of these stories that’s worth being made the butt of the joke, and Cannon is so good at making much of the movie loose enough to sell that wit, to the point where I wished she had just written an original movie instead. That extends to her work with the cast, as well, with Cabello proving herself an apt comedic performer with a quirky sensibility, and veteran cast members Idina Menzel as stepmother Vivan, Billy Porter as the woefully underused godparent Fab G, and Pierce Brosnan as King Rowan delivering standout performances.

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But the meta tone is derailed by musical numbers that feel more obligatory than necessary, featuring a soundtrack of classic pop songs and an original or two crammed in. Designed for a generation being raised on manic TikTok videos, virtually every number from the opening featuring a mashup of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” to Galitzine’s take on Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and the finale of “Let’s Get Loud”, is tone-deaf and out of place. Yes, they show off the colorful costumes and the voices of Cabello, Menzel, and Porter, but with uninspired choreography and no goal beyond trying to make the movie seem energetic and modern, they also feel useless. Taking out the number would’ve left more room to mine some actual insight into gender norms and genre tropes, but this movie was clearly made in mind to get streams on a soundtrack and inspire dance videos, so here they are. 

Even if the numbers could be enough to make the movie feel like a welcome new take, there’s nothing stopping it from looking like business as usual. Ella wants to be a fashion designer, but we don’t get to see many of her creations, and the ones we do, feel taken from any other number of wardrobe closets from past movies in the genre. With perhaps the exception of Menzel’s costumes, every other suit and dress does nothing to dazzle, especially when set against equally ho-hum production design. Every setting has the same look and feel, with zero sense of visual magic to make the movie at least appealing to look at.

Humor goes a long way for me, and Cannon’s movie is at its best when it’s a skewering comedy with charm, to the point it would’ve been a far more effective movie as a whole if it just embraced that simplicity and nailed it. But in trying to cram in so many headache-inducing musical numbers that distract from chances to actually explore the progressive themes that are left oversimplified by the end, Cinderella not only loses much of its claim to being a truly modern take on old material, but also any sense of magic and wonder that original material provides.

Cinderella (2021)



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