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This is good. See it!

Hmmm. Okay, maybe you need to hear specifics. Just what makes Ever After: A Cinderella Story such an energetic, satisfying and confident film?

I can say that the re-telling of the long-lived legend is both funny and sincere. It is basically good-hearted, good-spirited and sweet, without being cloying. And it helps that it has the ever-more formidable Drew Barrymore in the lead role.

Maybe it’s slightly overly modern – I doubt anyone 400 years ago would have said “Perhaps you can talk him into the 16th century!,” or that there were so many flying female fists back then – but who cares? Ever After is frequently exuberant and definitely fun. It is also stuffed with story touches that are both original and logical, and its star is no quavering waif.

The film has this basic premise: What if Cinderella had really existed? How could the tale work without the magic acts in the story copied down by the Brothers Grimm or the fairy-godmother-and-mice-and-pumpkin stuff Disney did?

We start in the 19th century, when the Grimm brothers visit an aged royal woman (Jeanne Moreau). She tells them a Cinderella story from 16th-century France, where a father of two – including young Danielle – marries a baroness (Angelica Huston). The father had wanted his devoted daughter to have a mother again after she lost her own, but Fate strikes him down, too.

Danielle grows up to look like Barrymore, who gets by despite slaving for her stepmother and two stepsisters (who call her “Cinderfoot” and “Cinderella”). Memorizing her treasured copy of Thomas More’s Utopia, the last gift her father gave her, Danielle uses its ideas when she dresses up like a lady of the court and goes to the capital to plead for a servant’s life.

Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), soon to be married, is impressed by Danielle and keeps tabs on her. We also meet Leonardo DaVinci, up from Italy on a special commission (“Michelangelo was stuck under a ceiling”) and who winds up on Danielle’s side when push comes to shove. Everyone schemes and there are capers galore; the baroness apparently goes so far in trying to keep Danielle in her place that she frames her for thefts. (I say apparently because this is one of the few confusing things in Ever After, but I can live with the plot hole.)

The blond stepsister, Marguerite, is a hoot – a striking and scheming beauty who’s trying reeeeally hard to get the Prince’s hand in marriage. I don’t know how to describe why she’s funny, but she is. Meanwhile, the other stepsister, Jacqueline, is…well, she’s a surprise. And there is a wedding that makes you laugh and smile – even though it involves a memorable crying jag.

To get high-falutin’ for a moment, this movie works because we always need to re-tell myths, legends and fairy tales to keep them modern and accessible. Their lessons need to be heard, but what reaches a 19th-century audience won’t reach a 20th-century audience with the same immediacy. This is partly why Ever After feels so modern; it’s a Cinderella story that’s a product of our times.

Magic, for instance, doesn’t fit into our minds as well. In one version of the story, Cinderella plants a tree at her mother’s grave and the tree becomes magical, attracting birds who can not only find dresses and those glass slippers, but who can even speak and steer the Prince towards his true love. And in the Disney version, there’s plenty of magic – again, a maternal magic (the Fairy Godmother) that can conjure up the precious things Cinderella needs to pass as a high society lady.

Ever After is more paternal and less magical than those versions, with at least one notable maternal touch. “Once upon a time there was a young girl who loved her father very much," Moreau says to begin this tale, and the closest to a magic force in Danielle’s life is Mr. DaVinci – but who definitely appreciates and celebrates the feminine in this film. (Speaking of Mona Lisa, a quietly satisfied DaVinci says, “The woman had many secrets. I painted one of them.”) And the positive maternal touch, there to balance the awfulness of the baroness and Marguerite, is the beautiful dress and glass slippers that Danielle wears at the end; they belonged to her dearly departed mother. The film was helped by having a mix of men and women write the script, to keep male and female perspectives better balanced.

Who knows how well Ever After will hold up – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which came to my mind during this, was more than a little confused in the way it re-wrote the Robin Hood legend – but I know that it’s good for now.

Ever After is PG-13, but really it shouldn’t be a problem for those who are younger – especially girls – to see it. It is a positive film about a Cinderella who is her own woman…and that’s good for young girls to see.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 9th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC)
I adore Melanie Lynskey- and this was an underrated movie; I liked its working in real-life details of Da Vinci's working on designs for nobles (and his illegitimacy, IIRC.)
Apr. 9th, 2009 12:14 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked this flick..its one of my favorites.
Apr. 9th, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)
An incredibly underrated movie. I adored it, and am glad I caught it in the theater.
Apr. 9th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
I loved this movie.
Apr. 9th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
How did you find Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves confused, per say? It's been forever since I saw that. Loved it as a kid, still found it fun the last time I saw it some years back, though some glaring flaws had come to stand out.
Apr. 14th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
How did you find Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves confused, per se? It's been forever since I saw that. Loved it as a kid, still found it fun the last time I saw it some years back, though some glaring flaws had come to stand out.

Let's see if I can answer for my 1998 self:

I felt the film's tone wasn't very consistent. The fun-and-games parts kind of collided with the kinkiness-and-witchcraft parts, and I thought the story didn't need such darkness related to the Sheriff and that witch. (More time to produce the film may have helped, but the production was famously rushed due to weather and the two competing Robin Hood films that Warner Brothers wanted to beat.) It felt like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was trying too hard to make the Sheriff an uber-villain, like a funnier Darth Vader. Still a great character, but a lot of that was Alan Rickman going so thoroughly over the top. (My friend rafaela later told me she'd rooted for him.)

I think it over-thought the character connections, too. Robin Hood and Will Scarlett are brothers, the Sheriff and Sir Guy are cousins, in the extended cut the witch is the Sheriff's mom...it's a little too original-Star Wars-Trilogy, but crammed into one film. I'm still not sure which connections are clever and which connections are just easy shortcuts to dramatic resolutions.

I also thought that the film was trying too hard to add social commentary that the story couldn't necessarily support. To do that, it kind of makes the English over-primitive and the Saracens over-advanced. (A very conservative friend of mine, as in interned-for-the-Heritage Foundation conservative, was driven to distraction by that. "So the English have to be complete close-minded idiots and Azeem gets to be the smartest by far?!") The film's still very much a product of its time, its culture-wars-y time. Down to the hair.

I do still like the film. I saw it within the last couple of months and whipped up notes for a review I'll write sometime.

One of my positive thoughts: The dialogue in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is actually a lot more interesting than I'd remembered. I love the sound of it. The writers did well writing those words and the actors did well delivering them, so that the language sounds archaic. That's hard to do, as you know, without it seeming stiff or posed. Now I'm thinking of Mike Russell's comment in his negative review of The Nativity Story: "Why do these films always assume no one 3,000 years ago spoke in contractions?"

I still don't feel I've expressed this all that well, but hey, I will do an entry about the film sometime...
Apr. 15th, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)
See, for me as I recall it, there wasn't so much a clash between the kinkiness-&-witchcraft parts and the fun-and-games parts so much as between "fun & games"-type action sequences (ala Star Wars/Indiana Jones) and harder, grittier, grimmer medieval action-violence ala "Braveheart" (this came out before BH, but you get what I mean).

And yeah, it does stink of the whole whitey-guilt revisionist thing in places... which rather clashes with the whole "Everyone rejoice! King Richard's back and he still has the throne!" bit at the end (a pretty hard-to-avoid aspect of any Robin Hood telling).

I suspect if I watched the film now I'd still enjoy the hell out of it, though isn't it funny how things date... I imagine if I watched the two back to back, I'd feel the Errol Flynn film had aged better, similarly to how, re-watching STAR TREK in recent years, the original series has largely aged lightyears better than that whole goofyass "Lookatus! Lookatus! We're the new Sensitive New-Age Star Trek!" business from '80's/'90's TV.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )