New Cinderella a Disharmonious Musical Fairy Tale Mixtape
If one were going to set out to make a somewhat modernized, newfangled musical adaptation of Cinderella that exists outside either the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein version or the animated Disney classic, Kay Cannon does seem to be the right person for the job on paper. As primary voice behind the Pitch Perfect trilogy and the director of the fabulous 2018 comedy Blockers, she has a distinctive style that makes her uniquely suited to pull something like that off.
Granted, if what’s on paper always translated into success, then the 2001 Seattle Mariners would have been World Series champions and the Brooklyn Nets would have faced the Los Angeles Lakers in last season’s NBA Finals. No, this Cinderella — even with the combined star power of Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver in key supporting roles, and with captivating pop singer Camila Cabello in the lead role — is still something of a disaster. It gave me a headache, and that might be the nicest thing I have to say on the matter.
Not that I’m angry at this new revisionist presentation. Cannon’s jukebox musical has energy, and I appreciate that the filmmaker went out of her way to compose a rah-rah, you-go-girl anthem for younger audiences who need a little more than the usual fairy tale pabulum. There is something to be said about wanting to empower the viewer to think beyond concepts of “love at first sight” and instead to challenge society’s conventions and reach beyond the status quo. These are good things I wholeheartedly applaud.
But this film is a mess. The songs, ranging from “Rhythm Nation” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” to “Seven Nation Army” to “Material Girl” to “Let’s Get Loud,” are a discombobulated mixtape even the Barden Bellas would refuse to perform at one of their many a cappella competitions. The main original song, the Cabello-penned “Million to One,” is a solid pop tune in and of itself, yet it becomes an insufferable slog here.
The bigger problem is that Cannon appears to consider a variety of character traits more than enough to manufacture a full-blown character. But “quirky” is not a person. Neither is “snarky.” Or “pithy.” Or “insecure.” Or “disillusioned.” Or so many more colorful adjectives I could come up with to describe someone. The naked truth is that there are no three-dimensional people populating this story; each character is presented with a sitcom-like simplicity that’s frustrating.
While Cannon does shake things up, the basic plot remains relatively faithful to the fairy tale everyone already knows by heart. Only, instead of just pining for marriage and a better life after being forced to work as a scullery maid by her wicked stepmother (Menzel), Ella (Cabello) has aspirations to become a famous fashion designer. As for Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), he only wants to rule because it would make his father King Rowan (Brosnan) proud, when in actuality, it’s his sister, Princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive), who is more suited to wear the crown.
Porter shows up as Ella’s Fabulous Godmother (Fab G for short) and also narrates. As for Driver, she’s Queen Beatrice, and while her being a silent afterthought — sitting in the corner, and whose opinion King Rowan far too often refuses to listen to — is the point, to say the talented actress is wasted is an obvious understatement. Still, she does have a couple of nice little moments, not the least of which is one where she almost wordlessly expresses her profound disappointment when her husband finally takes things a few steps too far.
Menzel comes out of all of this looking the best, and I can’t say that’s surprising. Cabello gives it her all but she’s not up to her co-star’s level. It’s sometimes difficult to know if she’s wilting into the background because that’s what the character is supposed to do, or if instead she’s just that intimated to be sharing a scene with the Tony-winning titan. It also doesn’t help that Cabello shares zero chemistry with Galitzine, and while he’s certainly pretty to look at, I wouldn’t say the actor’s performance did much for me.
Cinderella means well. Cannon has something to say, and I do think there’s value in the messages she’s working overtime to impart. But the various pieces of this musical never join together in harmony. Instead, they’re all singing different songs in disparate keys with no rhyme and even less reason as to how they should all fit together once the chorus reaches its crescendo. The record might not be broken, but it’s certainly scratched, all of which makes trying to play it virtually impossible.
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)