Written and Directed by Kay Cannon.
Starring Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, Minnie Driver, Missy Elliott, James Acaster, James Corden, Fra Fee, Nikkita Chadha, and Tallulah Greive.
A modern movie musical with a bold take on the classic fairy tale. Our ambitious heroine has big dreams and with the help of her fab Godmother, she perseveres to make them come true.
To watch writer/director Kay Cannon’s anachronistically modernized retelling of the classic fairy tale Cinderella is to periodically stop and question if what’s happening on screen is happening and not some vividly lucid nightmare. That’s also not easy to write considering the filmmaker does have talent (Blockers is an underappreciated comedic gem, and one gets the sense that taking things a little less seriously while peppering in some more fun and jokes would do some wonders, although maybe not where the presence of James Corden is concerned but I digress) and the idea of exploring the fable through a progressive and diverse lens is appealing, even if the story has been done to death.
Singer-songwriter Camila Cabello has been cast in the titular role, rebranded here as Ella with the full name of Cinderella serving as a lame insult. Of course, the musician background of Camila Cabello means the approach here is a musical, albeit a highly frustrating one considering the star’s amateurish acting, autotune vocals, and subpar singing skill. It’s also possible that my opinion of Camila Cabello’s talents would change outside of Cinderella as it’s also difficult to lay the blame entirely on her. Simply put, the musical numbers are flat with next to no imagination, relying on colorful costumes and low-energy dance choreography (the only one that feels remotely exciting is the finale, but by then, that feeling is offset by the relief of knowing the ending credits are coming) to entertain.
However, far more baffling is the decision to fill those musical numbers with pop and rock songs spanning multiple decades for no other reason than the lyrics are tied to the current moment of the plot. There are no words to describe how jarring and disorienting it is to hear Cinderella open up with a fictional 18th-century village singing and dancing to the rhythms of Thriller. The song choices only become more absurd, with the introduction of each one eliciting unintentional laughter. Sadly, the rest of the movie is so beholden to the typical Cinderella formula (which is disappointing considering how much effort has gone into diversifying the cast of characters and placing importance on female independence) that it becomes a waiting game of horror and misplaced dreaded enthusiasm seeing what popular song is next used for a grandiose sequence.
All of this also drowns out any attempt at characterization the film is going for, which is mostly the usual Cinderella beats, anyway. Ella spends most of her time in the basement sketching designs and fantasizing about being a dressmaker for high-end clients, with three talking mice serving as her only genuine company (she can’t actually hear them, which is also a blessing for her since one of them is voiced by James Corden, expectedly unfunny). Her stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel, basically playing the polar opposite of Frozen‘s Elsa) consistently reinforces the notion that her daughters must marry wealthy to lift them out of their financial slump because she believes that’s the way the world works. Cue a musical number set to Material Girl (God, how I wish I were joking).
Somewhere off in the distance at the Royal Castle, Prince Robert (a rather bland Nicholas Galitzine) is chastised for his immaturity and drunken fox catching, refusing to grow up and position himself to become the ruler of the land. His kingly father (Pierce Brosnan, who is at least trying to add some humor to this dull affair) is more pressuring, convincing his son to marry strategically, acquiring more land, while also a bit egotistical and high on himself (amusingly, he repeatedly raises the height of his throne). Meanwhile, Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver) is more levelheaded, wanting what’s best for her son, also searching for the love that seems to be lost between King and Queen.
They also have a daughter, Princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive, the only other bright spot here), that essentially gets ignored even though she has several great economic and equality ideas. The story of Cinderella is also so uneventful, predictable, and nowhere near as boldly reinventive as the filmmakers think it is here that there’s also a feeling the movie would have been far more interesting following an overlooked quirky Princess that has the qualifications to rule as Queen while everyone else’s too busy concerned with pushing Robert into marriage.
All of the familiar elements are here, from the glamorous ball (which Ella attends for different reasons as she finds the idea of a party designed for matchmaking to be old-fashioned) to the Fairy Godmother (known here as Fab G and played by Billy Porter) working some magic with dresses and carriages (unfortunately, James Corden does temporarily transform into a human being where he is also given some atrocious comedic material and one horrific image while reverting to mouse form) to the inevitable search for the owner of the glass slipper.
The main alteration here is that Ella (even after singing Ed Sheeran’s Perfect to each other in supremely cheesy fashion) is not seeking marriage if it means she has to give up on her dreams. It’s never a mystery for one minute how Cinderella will end, with the journey there aggressively irritating and blindingly outrageous from a creative standpoint. A modernized progressive musical interpretation of Cinderella does have potential, but leave it alone like the utilized song Seven Nation Army says, “leave it alone.”
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com