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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Kay Cannon
prd Leo Pearlman, James Corden, Jonathan Kadin, Shannon McIntosh
with Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, Tallulah Greive, James Corden, James Acaster, Romesh Ranganathan
release US/UK 3.Sep.21
21/UK Sony 1h53
Is it streaming?
Peppered with lively pop mashups, this sassy fairy tale is an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza, brightly designed and infused with rather a lot of outrageous silliness. Writer-director Kay Cannon knows how to integrate music into a narrative (see Pitch Perfect), and the film is shot in picturesque English locations. But even as it touches on some meaningful issues, the movie isn't trying to be anything more than goofy fun.
In a medieval village, wannabe dressmaker Ella (Cabello) is the put-upon servant for twice-widowed stepmum Vivian (Menzel) and her dimwitted daughters Malvolia and Narissa (Baillio and Spencer). Meanwhile in the castle, Prince Robert (Galitzine) is pressured by his parents (Driver and Brosnan) to find a strategic bride, but he wants to marry for love. So all the women are invited to a lavish ball. When Vivian prevents Ella from going, she's rescued by her magical godparent (Porter), who brings her dream dress to life and turns her pet mice (Corden, Acaster and Ranganathan) into footmen.
Cannon sticks to the familiar tale while playing up everything in it for comedic value, with rather randomly sprinkled drama and emotion here and there. A couple of toe-tapping original songs appear between the iconic tracks by the eclectic likes of Madonna, Janet Jackson, Ed Sheeran, Jennifer Lopez, Queen and Earth, Wind & Fire. But the characters are exactly who they need to be, with little real depth. And even if the film is never more than light entertainment, the adept ensemble keeps us giggling and sighing.
Creating meta-style characters who aren't terribly human, the acting is relentlessly sparkly, broadly punching ridiculous jokes and pushing the expected sentimental buttons. In her film debut, Cabello reveals a skill for comedic timing, giving the title character an engaging, lively spirit that's likely to inspire young audience members to pursue their dreams. Galitzine brings the requisite charm to his otherwise chucklehead prince. And even the most minor characters get in on the wackiness, while veterans Menzel, Porter, Brosnan and Driver add their own colourful flourishes.
Within the limits of the story, everything is played either for laughs or swoony romance. There are a range of themes gurgling underneath, most importantly female empowerment, but also class inequality, parental expectations and, erm, a jab at the military industrial complex. Although none of this is remotely profound, it at least provides a hint of subtext. But this isn't a movie that pushes us in any way. It's about sitting back, singing along and simply enjoying a sappy love story.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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