Director: Kay Cannon
Cast: Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Minnie Driver, Pierce Brosnan, Nicholas Galitzine
It is quite a task to infuse novelty in a story that has been retold so many times that the audience is tired of hearing it. Fairytales are increasingly losing relevance in our lives – probably the reason why writer-director Kay Cannon takes a more contemporary approach to tell her Cinderella story. Her princess is a woman with a voice, and a pretty musical one at that. Singer Camila Cabello stars as Ella in her debut film, in the usual setting of leading a life dictated by her stepmother. But she is not giving up hopes to make something of her life. She wants to own a dress-making shop.
Fairy tales have often been criticised for their problematic messaging about gender. Kay Cannon attempts to dispel those gender stereotypes to present a rather simplistic account of women trying to find their place in a man’s world. It’s a good attempt, but not a great one.
The narrative’s emotional fabric is flimsier than the tulle in Ella’s gowns. Her scenes with the prince (Nicholas Galitzine) feel as ill-fitted as a glass slipper. The essence of the fairytale romance is completely replaced by focus on establishing her as a girl chasing her dreams. It is possible for a girl boss to also swoon at the sight of a handsome man. A woman shouldn’t have to choose between the two, and Cinderella does get to keep both in the end, but they land in her lap too easily. The pieces fall in place magically, not logically. Maybe that’s why this is still a fairytale.
Her stepmother (Idina Menzel) isn’t too evil, and has her own sad story of being a victim of circumstances. One moment she is almost sympathizing with Cinderella, and in the next, she is forcing him to marry a creep. The switch is too sudden.
The main takeaway is the talented bunch of actors singing some enjoyable songs, which keep you hooked even if you are not a fan of musicals. Camila’s One in a Million, Idina’s rendition of Madonna’s Material Girl and a version of Nico and Vinz’s hit Am I Wrong are the high points in the movie. Jessica Weiss’ musical compositions make all the song-and-dance sequences enjoyable. Pierce Brosnan as the conceited king is another surprise.
While the issues presented are modern-day, the setting is not. What would be the period of the setting? It’s unclear. You have a kingdom and monarchy, probably to justify why women owning a business is an improbability, but the film can feel dated to women who have already come out of the basement and found their place in the world. Princess Gwen’s character is infused with a lot of potential, but doesn’t show an arc of development to justify her achievement at the end. You want to cheer for the women, but you’re left wondering exactly why you should. The weak plot and one-dimensional characters lead to a rather unsatisfactory narrative.
Cannon’s attempt at giving a ‘women empowerment’ spin to this yarn is good is not supported by an equally strong script and characters. The issues could seem oversimplifications to modern women whose lives are way more complicated, who have come a long way from just ‘getting loud’ in a man’s world, and do not have a Fab G (Billy Porter) to magically dispel their problems.