Warner Bros. // 2004 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Diane Wild (Retired) // November 26th, 2004
Once upon a time...can happen any time.
"Cinderella" plus You've Got Mail minus any chemistry between the leads equals A Cinderella Story. It's another Hollywood formula destined to make a few pre-teen girls happy and leave the rest of humanity longing for some spark of originality.
Once upon a time, Sam (Hilary Duff, The Lizzie McGuire Movie) lived with her widowed father in a faraway land called the San Fernando Valley. They were a happy little family until he married Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge, Best in Show), the wicked stepmother. When Sam's dad died in an earthquake, he left his diner and everything he possessed to Fiona, including Sam. So now she scrubs floors and takes orders for breakfast burritos while dreaming of Princeton and Price Charming.
She tells her hopes and dreams to her mystery e-mail buddy, who wants to meet her for the first time at the Halloween dance. When she realizes he is Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray, One Tree Hill), the most popular boy in school, Sam (a.k.a. Diner Girl) gets cold feet and decides not to reveal her identity. But can true love -- love that has stood the test of 10 minutes of face time -- be denied? Maybe not, but Sam must first face her own fears, the devious plots of her evil stepsisters, and Prince Charming's elitist tendencies.
There's nothing very awful about A Cinderella Story. There's just nothing very anything about it -- it's as insubstantial as Hilary Duff's acting abilities.
Sam is a tomboy who despises materialism, but she's a cute, sporty 16 year old who wears cute, sporty outfits, and has a cute, sporty cell phone. Hilary Duff is...cute (no, I won't say sporty), and that's part of the problem. She's not plain enough for the Diner Girl persona who the popular kids scorn, and not stunning enough for the entrance to the Halloween party where she's supposed to be a transformed Eliza Doolittle coming down the stairs. She's cute in a diner uniform and cute in a Cinderella gown. Cute is not bad, but it's not enough to carry this movie.
The pacing is excruciatingly slow. We know the entire plot before the prologue is finished, for one thing, and there are no surprises (well, no good ones). Sam and Austin's instant messages linger on the screen as the characters voice them for us in their entirety. The action screeches to a dead stop when Sam tries on costumes. We don't have time to be engaged by Sam and Austin's personalities before they meet, and they don't spend enough time together onscreen to convince us they're meant to be together. After one dance and no interesting conversation, Austin and Sam fall in love. Insert eye roll here.
No one in A Cinderella Story talks like a real person -- Austin especially. He's a Prince Charming for girls who want a poster boy to drool over, without all that bother of having a personality. Besides, who needs personality if you're cute?
If you saw the commercials, you've seen the only funny parts. You remember:
Snooty rich girl: "What can I get here that has no carbs, no sugar, and
is fat free?"
Evil stepmother: "I'm very, very upset."
Evil stepsister: "You don't look upset."
Evil stepmother: "It's the Botox. I can't show emotion for another hour."
And that's about it for laughs.
The extras are fairly extensive and should satisfy the target audience's Hilary Duff quotient. There's a commentary, deleted scenes, screen tests, a making-of featurette, and more. If you were disappointed that Hilary didn't belt out a tune as Cinderella, your dreams are fulfilled here with a video duet with lil' sis Haylie.
The transfer is much better than the movie itself, with no noticeable grain or edge enhancement, and nice color and contrast. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is underused, but the dialogue is crisp and there are some minor surround effects in the ball scene.
A Cinderella Story was conceived for a specific target audience, but it succeeds only in condescending to them. I was expecting cliché -- I mean, it's there in the title -- but cliché can be fun. It can be witty. It can have heart. But sometimes, it can be plain stupid.
Guilty! All involved with A Cinderella Story are banished to the land of trolls and ogres. And no happily ever after for them.
Review content copyright © 2004 Diane Wild; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Cast commentary
* "Our Lips Are Sealed" music video by Hilary and Haylie Duff
* Deleted scenes
* Screen tests
* "Cinderella Couture -- The Making of a Fashionably Modern Fairy Tale" featurette
* Find Your Prince/Princess Challenge
* DVD-ROM weblink
* Theatrical trailer
* Official Site