CAST: Camila Cabello, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Nicholas Galitzine, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, John Mulaney, James Corden, Romesh Ranganathan, Missy Elliott, Tallulah Greive, Luke Latchman, Fra Fee, Beverley Knight, Mary Higgins
RUNNING TIME: 113 mins
BASICALLY…: With the help of her magical Fab G (Porter), down-on-her-luck Cinderella (Cabello) finds her biggest wishes to come true…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
There have been plenty of movie versions of the classic fairy tale of Cinderella, and this new one from writer-director Kay Cannon (the creator of Pitch Perfect and also the writer-director of the hit comedy Blockers)… is certainly one of them.
Although, for a story that nearly everyone in the world knows by this point – whether it’s either the animated or live-action Disney versions, or subversive takes like Ever After, or as recently as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newly-opened stage musical – this version of Cinderella still somehow manages to make a well-trodden path feel even more trampled upon, with an oddly joyless and rather irritating update that goes so far into post-modern territory that the spirit of the original fairy tale gets lost along the way.
You all know the story, but for the 0.01% who are still uninitiated: the film is set in a kingdom where a young woman named Ella (Camila Cabello) lives with her cruel stepmother (Idina Menzel) and equally spiteful stepsisters (Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer). Nicknamed “Cinderella” for her constant dirtiness, Ella is forced to be their servant while being left to dream of becoming a dressmaker and leading her own independent life. Meanwhile, the nearby palace, ruled by the King and Queen (Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver respectively), decides to hold a ball so that their son, the Prince (Nicholas Galitzine), may find a bride and finally grow up – but when Ella’s plans to attend are scuppered by her wicked step-family, she finds that magic is on her side as her fairy godparent, the Fab G (Billy Porter), ensures that she will go to the ball regardless. From there, you know the drill: be back by midnight, glass slippers, all that stuff.
Except, this version of Cinderella is not that fun to sit through. Say what you will about the live-action Disney version from 2015, but that movie at least had some scope to it, and looked as though the filmmakers were trying to match the classical, traditional nature of the original fairy tale (it looks gorgeous, for one; I still have fond memories of that beautiful blue dress that Lily James wore in that film). With this one, though, you can sense how manufactured it is from the start, as though it’s been designed specifically to cater towards The Greatest Showman crowd while half-heartedly trying to spice up some of the dated plot points for a more modern audience. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing (after all, the notion of a passive character like Cinderella being defined by her love for a handsome prince is archaic, to say the least), but writer-director Kay Cannon isn’t able to find a way to make the story or her characters work for these modern times without also keeping some of the more traditional elements, which makes a lot of things not make a whole lot of sense. For instance, it’s never made clear whether we are supposed to despise the stepmother as she verbally and physically abuses the protagonist, or sympathise with her as she reveals a tragic backstory that explains her profound cruelty. It doesn’t work, because at the end of the day she is still doing villainous things in the present which, whatever the backstory, make it difficult to see this character in a more empathetic light.
The film identifies as a musical, but think less Beauty and the Beast and more Mamma Mia!, with an awkward mix of jukebox numbers by modern artists like Queen, Madonna, Ed Sheeran and Earth, Wind & Fire, and a handful of unmemorable originals. As ever, jukebox musicals just scream of laziness, because instead of coming up with new toe-tappers the writers just seem to work in whatever seems to pop up on their iPod’s shuffle mode, and Kay Cannon’s Cinderella is one of the more cynical ones to emerge in recent years, because it is heavily reliant on familiar chart-topping pop hits to establish a sense of identity, instead of forming one for itself. Even the performances of said songs feel too neatly polished, with the singers and actors often looking too stiff and uncomfortable as they move to uninspiring choreography while struggling to act natural in front of a camera. This unfortunately extends to lead Camila Cabello, who is a damn fine singer but not a trained actress, and so she isn’t able to properly emote in scenes where she ought to have more of a reaction than she does (her response to having her self-made dress ruined by her stepmother? Nothing worse than when somebody takes the last digestive biscuit from the tin).
It’s a telling of Cinderella where you honestly have no reason to care about anyone or anything, not even the abused young woman whose best friends are a trio of horribly-rendered CGI mice (one of them being James Corden, because of course he’s in this). That’s because not only do you know every single place where this story is going – including the points that try doing something different to the traditional narrative – but this version has no discernible passion or drive outside of its numerous showtunes. There’s hardly a personality to any of these characters outside of stock Disney-baiting wisecracks and pandering one-liners (characters regularly talk in modern lingo like “She cray” and “Yass [future] queen”), while the few moments where the movie actually does start to become charming are instantly ruined whenever it cuts back to James Corden and Romesh Ranganathan clowning around together.
I’m not saying that you can’t make a post-modern version of an old fairy tale like Cinderella, because it can definitely be done without sacrificing what makes the original story so timeless and memorable. However, this version of Cinderella isn’t the way to go: it’s frustrating, cynical, and overstuffed with inconsistent character arcs as well as lazy musical numbers that are designed not to reinvent the story, but to check certain boxes for what certain people think people want out of this story in 2021.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Cinderella is a frustratingly manufactured attempt to modernise the classic fairy tale, but lacks consistency in its storytelling, lazily recycles pop tunes for its showtunes, and leaves little personality of its own.