CINDERELLA STORY, A
When Sam's (Hilary Duff) father dies, she is left in the clutches of her wicked stepmother, Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge) and ugly, scheming sisters (Madeline Zima) and (Andrea Avery) who take over her father's house, his neat little diner - and her life. Miserable and downtrodden as the household slave, Sam tries to study hard to get into Princeton but is held back by Fiona's demands, both at home and at the diner where Sam is forced to work long hours. When she is finally convinced by friends to go the fancy dress ball as a bit of fun she deserves, she gets to meet the mysterious Nomad, who turns out to be the hunky (much-crushed by the girls) football captain, Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray) with whom she has been chatting online for some time. This is not welcome by Austin's just-ditched girlfriend, Shelby (Julie Gonzalo), and the meeting is abruptly cut short when Sam has to leave to get back by midnight, and her chances of romance seem suddenly dim. But she does drop her mobile phone on the way out, which Austin picks up ....
Review by Louise Keller:
It's a sign of the times, that Cinderella's glass slipper has been replaced by a sleek mobile phone, and the wicked stepmother spends her days having liposuction and tanning in the home solarium. The ugly sisters practise their Ester Williams aquarobics techniques wearing multi-coloured floral swimming caps, Prince Charming captains the football team, but he really wants to be a writer, and Cinders good-naturedly scrubs the floor of her beloved father's diner - wearing roller skates. No wonder they call her Diner Girl.
Targeted at a young female audience, A Cinderella Story is an entertaining fantasy for those who believe in 'happily ever after'. Predictable, formulaic and derivative in slick, Hollywood style, the film is surprisingly endearing, as parody collides with saccharine.
Of course there's little connection to reality as the updated, age-old tale unwinds, but the core message about pursuing your dreams comes through clearly. But there is more to a fairy tale than finding a handsome prince, it's also about being accepted at Princeton and being accepted by your peers.
Effusing as much charisma as she did in The Lizzie Maguire Movie, Hilary Duff is perfectly cast as Sam, the vulnerable beauty whose dreams are as downtrodden as her life. Both Duff and Chad Michael Murray's dreamboat Austin (appealing) play it very straight, leaving a home run in the laughs department to Jennifer Coolidge who delights in the vile-ness. There's even an extra twist of irony that her wicked stepmother character is named Fiona - as is Shrek's green dream-princess. Coolidge gets all the best lines, and her delivery is impeccable, using those impossibly huge lips to great comic advantage.
When she insists the garden is irrigated, water restrictions or not, she retorts: 'droughts are for poor people - do you think JLo has brown lawns?' and when she is berated for not looking upset, she boldly declares 'It's the botox - it takes an hour and a half to get my face to work.'
If you are looking to find flaws in A Cinderella Story, there are plenty. Most notable is the leap of faith we are required to take when Sam and Austin meet as Prince Charming and Cinderella at the Halloween Ball. Bearing in mind Sam's disguise only comprises a dainty white eye-mask, the filmmakers ask a lot of us to believe that Austin doesn't recognise her. Especially as he hangs out at the diner with his pals and insufferable cheerleader girlfriend every day. Chances are, when ideas were petering out, the five producers sat around a table one day musing 'Wouldn't it be fun if we reworked the cyber romance in You've Got Mail, calling the starry-eyed teens Princetongirl818 and Nomad609?'
A Cinderella Story mostly achieves what it sets out to achieve - it's a fantasy for those who have had a cynic bypass, and are looking for a chuckle in a land that bears absolutely no relation to real life and dreams come true.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Considering I was one of only two male critics at the media screening, I was expecting a routinely saccharine romantic fairy floss aimed at girls on the verge of puberty. I was pleasantly surprised that A Cinderella Story held my attention (no smart alec remarks, please) or at least that I found things of value in it.
Of course it's overdone and predictable, but it's meant to be: the title is fairly clear about that. Yet Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray make their characters real and their emotions sincere. Duff is under-glammed and her inner turmoil is well portrayed on her face, while Murray, reminiscent of Heath Ledger in his breakthrough role in 10 Things I Hate About You, is a sturdy and likeable prince charming chap.
The larger than life stepmum, not just wicked but wacko - another hilarious turn from the impossibly flexible Jennifer Coolidge - and ugly sisters provide hokey laughs and hissable villainy, and the direction is energetic enough to drive the film through its rough patches.
Of course wish fulfilment is at the film's heart and soul, utopian wishes for handsome princes and beautiful princesses. But within its own world and on its own terms, A Cinderella Story revisits the core of what the original fairy tale is about: real goodness will be recognised and evil will be vanquished.
Onto this hook the filmmakers hang a few modern appliances, such as female intelligence ahead of good looks, sincerity and even obedience ahead of being cool. These are decent values to be promoting to a generation so starved of them in general.
The other enjoyable element in this film is its sense of humour, which pokes fun at its despicable characters, punishing them with ridicule, and some throw-away visual gags. A Cinderella Story is not classic cinema, but it reasonably revisits the fairy tale with a modern spin in an American cultural setting.
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CINDERELLA STORY, A (PG)
CAST: Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Julie Gonzalo, Chad Michael Murray, Brenda Song, Brad Bufanda, Dan Byrd, Madeline Zima, Julie Gonzalo, Lilli Babb, Aimee-Lynn Chadwick
PRODUCER: Ilyssa Goodman, Casey La Scala, Hunt Lowry, Dylan Sellers, Clifford Werber
DIRECTOR: Mark Rosman
SCRIPT: Leigh Dunlap
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony B. Richmond
EDITOR: Cara Silverman
MUSIC: Christophe Beck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Charles Breen
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Hobart: September 2, 2004; Other states: September 23, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: March 16, 2005