Judge Lindsey Hoffman fulfills her contractual duty to review at least one "chick flick" a month. This one stars Drew Barrymore and Dougray "I Can Kick Hugh Jackman's Ass" Scott.
Now then, what is that phrase you use? Oh yes. "Once upon a time…"
The story of Cinderella is one of the most widely told fairy tales of all time. Due to its frequent reworkings on film, it is also one of the better-known folktales of the present day. Director and co-writer Andy Tennant ("Sliders," Anna and the King), in collaboration with writers Susannah Grant (Pocahontas, Erin Brockovich) and Rick Parks ("Major Dad"), has brought us yet another take on this beloved story. And 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has brought us yet another feature-impoverished disc.
Facts of the Case
You know how this story goes; you've heard it at least a dozen times, in one version or another. The orphaned Cinderella is the household drudge for her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. One night, when all the others have gone to a ball, poor overworked Cinderella is visited by a magic-wielding fairy godmother, who releases her from her duties for the evening, provides her with a magnificent dress, and sends her to the ball. There Cinderella dances with the prince until midnight, when the magic ends and she rushes home in rags. But she leaves behind one of her shoes, and the prince uses it to track her down and claim her for his bride.
The Cinderella story of Ever After is introduced by an aged French lady, who gently explains to the brothers Grimm how their version of the tale has gotten the facts all wrong. The "true" story, as she relates it to them, abandons the supernatural in favor of the Enlightenment. The role of fairy godmother is filled by none other than Leonardo da Vinci, whose cleverness with things like hinges and wire send our heroine to the ball dressed to catch a prince.
But she's already caught him, you see. Cinderella, or Danielle de Barbarak as she is named here, first meets the crown prince of France when he "borrows" one of her family's horses; not recognizing him for royalty, she pegs him with apples, knocking him to the ground. Later, when she dresses as a noblewoman to plead for the freedom of a servant, the prince meets her again and, though he doesn't recognize her, is bewitched by her outspoken conviction and her social ideals.
The plot is garnished with little touches of faux history to add to its "realism," but even so, we know that Ever After is fantasy because this Cinderella is so very liberated. She's a voracious reader (her favorite book is Thomas More's Utopia). She capably argues the injustices of the medieval class system. She bests a band of gypsy thieves with her wit and courage. She swims like a fish, climbs like a monkey, can lift and carry more than her own weight, and is able (and quite willing) to thrash the boy next door.
But her stepmother is as evil as Danielle is good, and will stop at nothing to get her own spiteful daughter married to the hapless prince. And how can Danielle confess to him that she is not the fine lady she seems, but only a commoner? While there may be little suspense about where the story ends up, the plot's twists and turns will keep you guessing about how it will get to the "happily ever after."
Have you ever noticed how many movies revolve exclusively around male characters? You know, where any women in the story are just sort of incidentally sketched in, or used as weak foils to show off the hero's strength? Ever After is the feminist answer to those movies.
Drew Barrymore (Charlie's Angels, The Wedding Singer) plays the spunky yet sensitive heroine who dreams of liberty and justice for all. Ms. Barrymore could not be more perfect for the part; she brings Danielle to vivid, winsome life, playing every emotion—grief, rage, mischievousness, vulnerability—with zest.
Opposite her, Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family, The Witches) depicts an equally convincing and colorful villain. As the stepmother, she is so unabashedly wicked that you may wonder, "How could anybody be so mean?" The answer, of course, is that her part was written that way, but Ms. Huston carries it with such flair that you almost forget that.
Of the two preening stepsisters, one is despicable (Megan Dodds, Urbania, Interstate 84) and one compassionate (Melanie Lynskey, Heavenly Creatures, Coyote Ugly). Both Dodds and Lynskey play their roles for memorable comic effect. Lynskey's understated humor makes her particularly well worth watching.
And then there is Prince Henry of France, who is not charming, but immature, whiny, and indecisive. Played by Dougray Scott (Deep Impact, Mission: Impossible II), he's hardly the most handsome prince you've ever seen, and the traces of his Scottish accent make him sound a bit like he has a speech impediment. If he didn't have a crown coming his way, nobody would want him—except perhaps Danielle, who sees what he can become, and challenges him to think, to question, and to care.
Richard O'Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dark City) is the salacious Pierre le Pieu, token male villain. But the threat he poses turns out to be rather flimsy, and for sheer nastiness he doesn't even come close to Huston's wicked stepmother. The only other male character of note is Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey, The Remains of the Day, A Room with a View), who makes the occasional appearance as an affable, grandfatherly sort of eccentric genius.
Ever After is beautifully filmed and beautifully transferred. The French setting and elaborate costumes are full of rich color, and fleshtones are spot-on. For a non-anamorphic transfer, it looks very good indeed. The lilting score complements the story nicely, and the sound makes limited but effective use of its surround capabilities.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It should be obvious by now that this movie will have very little appeal to the average male viewer, and no wonder: it lacks strong male characters. We all look for someone to identify with in a story. Danielle personifies feminine ideals of not only beauty and virtue, but courage and self-sufficiency; most women will have little trouble identifying with her, or wishing they were like her. Her stepmother and stepsisters are likewise strong, vivid characters. But there is no one in this story for a male viewer to identify with. The film is clearly and exclusively targeted toward a female audience. I leave it to you to decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
However, the disc's lack of supplementals is an unqualified embarrassment. The disc has a colorful, attractive menu, but its only special feature is the theatrical trailer. It's a very good trailer, but without any other goodies—without even an anamorphic transfer—it's like a slap in the face. A commentary track with Drew Barrymore would be a blast, and notes about locations and costumes (even such as can be found at the official site) would be welcome. Hello, Fox! Girls like extras too!
Ladies, if you're looking for a fairy tale that will make you laugh and cry and feel all warm and happy inside, this is your movie. Gentlemen, if you really want to impress that special woman in your life, skip that action flick and share Ever After with her.
And if you're curious about the "real" Cinderella story, check out the "Tales from Many Lands" link over in the right-hand column (scroll up a bit). This page contains both the Perrault (French) and Grimm (German) versions referred to at the beginning the movie, as well as a number of variations from other countries. Some of them are pretty far out.
For being miserly with special features, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is sentenced to wash the dishes, scrub the floor, and feed the pigs; no fairy godmother of any sort will be forthcoming. All others accused are free to go to the ball.
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer
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