Synopsis: A modern movie musical take on the classic fairytale of the orphaned girl with an evil stepmother. Our ambitious heroine has big dreams and with the help of her Fab Godmother, she perseveres to make them come true.
Stars: Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, Minnie Driver, James Acaster, James Corden
Director: Kay Cannon
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Back in the pre-pandemic days, when a film by-passed theaters and went straight to the home video market (‘straight-to-video’, if you will) that was the sure sign it was a turkey. It was the equivalent of a high-profile movie not screening for critics. Either the studio was trying to cut their losses and cash in on consumers having to buy their product in order to see it or they simply didn’t find the financing the justify paying the marketing costs to open the film in theaters across the country and foreign territories. Nowadays however, you can never really tell what a movie skipping a theatrical run could mean so it’s never wise to assume anything. I’ve seen just as many great films (and not unexpectedly great, either) that didn’t bother to go to theaters because they know that during this uncertain time they’d net more viewers/receipts if the film was released on a streaming/subscription service.
That’s why I didn’t give much thought when I read that Pitch Perfect writer (and writer of #2 and #3) Kay Cannon’s new version of Cinderella that was set to be released by Sony got snapped up by Amazon after its original studio dropped it. I mean, you can hardly go wrong with Cinderella, one of the all-time-most-loved fairy tales from French writer Charles Perrault that has been made countless times and used as the basis for any number of modern storylines. Disney made it an animated classic in 1950 and then worked its magic again with a breathtaking live-action remake in 2015. I’m not entirely precious about the piece so I say, go for it if you think you can put your own spin on it. Add in some appealing performers and a few modern tunes while you’re at it and you can call it a Cinderella of your own.
Why then, is this Cinderella, such a giant pile of, well, cinders? I’ll go back to what all of the judges say on every singing competition on television: song choice. It’s all about the song choice and that’s the first mistake. Cannon’s version of the fairy tale makes a critical error, causing it to run right off the track, never finding its way back. Opening with a group of well-dressed peasants recruited from the local Orange Theory furiously “and-a-5-6-7ing” their way through Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” (begging the question, why are they a part of the Rhythm Nation?), it’s our introduction to Cannon’s reimagined world where our Cinderella (Camila Cabello) doesn’t want to marry a prince so much as open up her own dress shop. If only her horrible “Material Girl” stepmother (Idina Menzel, Frozen) and stepsisters (Maddie Baillio & Charlotte Spencer) would let up on her and treat her like an equal. Also feeling misunderstood is Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine, The Craft: Legacy) who is being forced by his father (Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) to not only marry but stand firmly in the line of succession, much to the chagrin of his ready and willing younger sister (Tallulah Greive) who is denied that right because of her gender. The long-suffering Queen (Minnie Driver, GoldenEye) can only look on with silent disapproval…mostly because she doesn’t get a song until so close to the end I was honestly worried Driver was going to be denied the chance to sing.
Instead of the King throwing a ball to find a bride for the Prince, this time around it’s the heir’s idea for the big dance in hopes that he’ll find the mystery woman who so enchanted him when he snuck out of the palace for a day to walk among the common folk. I can only assume Cannon got an adaptation of Aladdin mixed up with her Cinderella script because this “day with the rabble” development is strangely similar to that film but at least it puts more autonomy in the youngsters of the film and gets us back to Cinderella needing all the furnishings for her big night. She gets decked out by her Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter, Like a Boss, in the film so little you’ll be shocked considering how much he shows up in the advertising) and is sent to the ball in a glam gown, glass shoes, and accompanied by three mice turned men, including executive producer James Corden, Into the Woods, who inexplicably shows up for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I think you know the rest…home before midnight, if the shoe fits you must marry it, etc., etc.
Amongst all the familiar beats are placed a truly bizarre selection of familiar songs (and two new ones) that feel either on the nose or shoehorned in…like the filmmakers took what they were given and asked no questions. I almost choked on my drink when Queen’s “Somebody to Love” began…how many more times can this be used in a movie for this same purpose? Is this the honest best they could come up with for a song to use to show that the prince longs for something more? While Menzel sings the heck out of “Material Girl”, it’s such an obvious number for the Stepmother/sisters that the creativity seems to be countered by a feeling of laziness. The best part of the movie are the proclamations from the Town Crier (Doc Brown) written by Cannon and composer Keith Harrison Dworkin – fast talking wordplay that has the energy the rest of the film sorely lacks.
All of this might have worked a tad better with more convincing leads. I’m not sure if this was meant as some launching pad for Cabello to transition into acting but this is not the type of showcase that bodes well for future projects. The singing is also underwhelming, with Cabello either slightly under pitch or with a voice so throaty you expect a legion of frogs to be following her around. I’ve liked her music quite a lot in the past but if this was the first time I heard her I wouldn’t want to investigate further. As the romantically tortured Prince, Galitzine might make sense as a TV royal but for film he comes up short. Let’s not even go too far into the total lack of chemistry between the lovebirds. To the great shock of no one, it’s Menzel and Porter who look the most comfortable both selling their songs and interpreting them, but Porter is also given a bit of stinker song to roll with. At least the gorgeous gown he was given by Ellen Mirojnick (The Greatest Showman) looks stunning.
I wish everyone involved with this had the ambition to be more fun with turning this into a full-on jukebox musical. If they were going to go for it, just go for it and don’t hold back. Unwilling to commit to a certain type of sound or mood, the choices are all over the map and that leaves this Cinderella dancing totally on its own and without any partner to come calling. If you’re looking for a musical update to a chestnut that works like gangbusters, I implore you to check out 2020’s Valley Girl – here’s a film that understood the assignment and went all the way across the finish line with its selection of hits. This Cinderella can’t scrap together a decent playlist.