Starring: Camila Cabello, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Nicholas Galitzine, Minnie Driver, Pierce Brosnan, James Corden, Tallulah Greive
Director: Kay Cannon
Just when you thought you didn’t need yet another incarnation of the classic fairy tale ‘Cinderella’ to come along, we are served with the twenty-first century woke adaptation that literally no-one needed. A jukebox musical from director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect), Camila Cabello makes her movie debut as the titular Disney princess, in a film that has nothing to do with Disney. And Billy Porter co-stars as a “genderless godmother”, although surely the character should actually be called a “genderless godparent” to make that device work?
Cinderella (Cabello) – although she prefers to be called “Ella”, because why not? – lives with her cruel stepmother (Menzel – Frozen, Rent) and step-sisters, who have enslaved her as their servant. She designs dresses, but women are forbidden from starting a business in this fantasy kingdom. Meanwhile, childish Prince Robert (Galitzine – Handsome Devil, The Craft) wants to marry, but is unimpressed with the suitors presented to him. His father (Brosnan – Goldeneye, Mama Mia) and mother (Driver – Good Will Hunting, Hard Rain) want him to follow tradition, but his sister (Greive – Our Ladies) thinks she would be a far better fit for the succession. The prince spots Ella in a public function and decides to hold a ball open to all subjects in an attempt to track her down, but when Ella is prevented from going by her captors, in steps her “fabulous godmother” (Porter – Pose, The Broken Hearts Club), who wipes away all the barriers in her path.
The film is clearly attempting to be a landmark moment in movie representation. The kingdom is fictional, after all, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be populated by the most diverse cast imaginable and Cannon absolutely succeeds there. Billy Porter’s role is clearly intended to be the icing on the cake, except the pronouns used don’t quite fit, which undermines their intention immediately. His performance is solid, but his language – as well as the dialogue from all of the characters – is so current that it jars with the historic styling. And, give it a few years, it will date the film too.
The choice of songs is problematic too. A jukebox musical is cringeworthy at the best of times (with the exception of Moulin Rouge!), in which a film relies heavily on the quality of the songs it has rights for. In this case, it’s a plethora of medium-hits that have littered the music charts in recent years. And there are so many of them too. Sometimes, you just want the characters to stop warbling and have an actual conversation, instead of communicating through pop songs whose lyrics were not written with this purpose in mind. There’s some great choreography for sure, but the arrangements are bland, sucking whatever soul there actually was in these “hits”. There are a few original songs, but this soundtrack will probably sit at the bottom of the pile of Camila Cabello’s – or Idina Menzel’s – back catalogue immediately.
Shot in the UK on both sides of last year’s lockdown, you can tell that it was filmed entirely with the absence of summer, with all the location shoots captured with heavy grey skies. This doesn’t exactly sell the sparkle of this magical wonderland. It has sumptuous sets and costumes for sure, but with a technicolour palate and glossy filters overcompensating for cloudy skies, it all just feels a bit like they’re pedalling hard on a pedalo that has already capsized.
Cabello is charming in the title role, but she’s not helped by a clunky script that is far more concerned with righting the gender-wrongs written by Charles Perrault in the seventeenth century than creating good characters. Menzel plays Menzel, while Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan get some funny scenes together. Nicholas Galitzine does a great job at making Prince Robert detestable in the opening scenes, but doesn’t quite manage to make him recover enough to make us understand why Ella might fall in love with him. And James Corden and his comedy crew playing the mice-cum-footmen? They’ll do.
Of the numerous Hollywood adaptations of the classic tale, this is by far the worst. In years to come, we’ll look back on this and shake our heads about how sanctimonious and smug it all looks. A film that is meant to be inclusive and accessible has actually ended up alienating and generic, without any of the magic it is trying to depict. A film that is doing its absolute damnedest to entertain, Cinderella is actually pretty boring.
UK Release: Out now to watch on Amazon Prime.