Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees has always dreamed of meeting a prince who quotes Shakespeare and does his own laundry. Now it looks like she'll have to fight Julia Stiles for him.
"He was quoting Shakespeare like some duke lord guy. I hate phonies like that."—Paige (Julia Stiles)
So many recent films have reheated the Cinderella tale for tween audiences, like The Princess Diaries and A Cinderella Story, that it's easy at first glance to mistake The Prince & Me for one of them. In actuality, its PG rating notwithstanding, the story is more mature than its tween-oriented brethren (or sistren): It's a smart variation on the Cinderella story that offers as much realism as it does fantasy, and it is anchored by intelligent writing and acting. It also differs from the usual wish-fulfillment chick flick formula by confronting some of the problems that would naturally arise when a modern-day woman falls in love with a man who is a celebrity—and whose lifestyle means that she can no longer dictate her own future.
Of course, these developments come later in the story, and we should begin at the beginning. Ready? Once upon a time…
Facts of the Case
Once upon a time in a land called Wisconsin lived a farm girl named Paige Morgan (Julia Stiles, Mona Lisa Smile). An ambitious, focused pre-med student, Paige has little time for an arrogant new exchange student from Denmark named Eddie (Luke Mably, 28 Days Later). However, Eddie is much more than he seems: He is really Crown Prince Edvard of Denmark, and he has come to America with his efficient equerry, Soren (Ben Miller, Johnny English), to escape the responsibilities of being next in line to the throne. A playboy who has never taken anything seriously, least of all romance, Eddie is astonished to find himself falling in love with this plain-spoken American—and getting nowhere with her.
As she comes to know Eddie better, however, Paige comes to realize that love is worth taking chances for, even when it doesn't fit into her life and career plans. But taking chances is not something the monarchy is noted for. If Paige and Eddie are to have a chance at building a future together, they must win over his parents, King Haraald (James Fox, Remains of the Day) and formidable Queen Rosalind (Miranda Richardson, The Hours). Moreover, as Paige comes to understand what being royal involves, she finds that she hasn't yet finished making tough decisions about her future.
Although at first glance The Prince & Me looks a lot like another Princess Diaries, it actually has much more in common with Roman Holiday and It Happened One Night. Like many classic screwball comedies, it shows a privileged person (here, Prince Edvard) coming down to earth among common folk and learning about what real life is like. However, like Roman Holiday, it also offers a more sobering counterpoint to the romance by pointing out the responsibilities and restrictions of royal life, which can't help but make this world daunting—and even disappointing—to those who aren't born to it. Because it tries to give equal weight to the impulses of wish fulfillment and realism, The Prince & Me sometimes seems uneven; the presence on the disc of two dramatically different endings shows how difficult it can be to reconcile these two contrary impulses. Nevertheless, the journey is a highly enjoyable one, and if it's not a perfect film, it nonetheless brings intelligence and freshness to the age-old story.
The casting and performances go far to make the film credible and successful. Julia Stiles is, in fact, the reason I watched this film in the first place, since she always brings intelligence to every role she plays. Her Paige is prickly enough not to be a pushover, yet we sympathize with her as she struggles to reconcile her growing love with her need to be in control of her life. Stiles's other great gift as an actress is naturalness: She makes Paige seem like a real person, although one endowed with remarkable charisma. She's an ideal actress to anchor a Cinderella story and prevent its becoming mawkish or cloying; even on the few occasions when the quality of the dialogue dips, her native intelligence and sincerity sell it nonetheless. Luke Mably, her costar, is also excellent. His good looks are of the slightly bland variety, so his charm has to gradually sneak up on one, as it does Paige; his personality, not his appearance, is really what shapes our reaction to the character. Mably is entirely convincing as he progresses through Eddie's character arc: from spoiled child of privilege, to fish out of water, and finally to the mature, responsible man that he becomes through his relationship with Paige. The screenwriters are also smart enough to show us that Eddie is not an idiot, even if he sometimes acts like one: He brings his own set of skills and insight into the relationship, so he and Paige both have things to offer each other. This egalitarian quality of their relationship helps to bridge the gap between their backgrounds and make their romance more convincing and heartwarming. Mably's Eddie also displays a sense of humor that endears us to him even when he is at his most insufferable.
The supporting cast is excellent as well, and even small characters get some terrific humorous lines. Fox and Richardson are suitably imposing as the king and queen, and both create distinct, developed personalities. (Unfortunately, no one ever explains why Richardson speaks with what is evidently a Danish accent when the other Danish characters speak in British accents.) The actors playing Paige's parents and brothers all strike just the right balance between affection and nosiness, and this familial atmosphere becomes a great setting in which Eddie starts to learn about life among working folk. Miller's Soren is one of the most enjoyable characters, providing dry commentary on the prince's activities and doing his best to uphold the standards of the Danish throne, even when his boss is living in a dorm.
The writing is solid almost without exception, and together with the assured direction of Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose), it even manages to rise above the romantic comedy formula with some delightfully unexpected touches—from Soren falling prey to the insidious allure of the Xbox to the lawnmower race in which Eddie has to prove himself to Paige's family and friends. The contrast between the formality of Denmark and the down-home world of Wisconsin provides lots of humor. Coolidge gives us the moments of high fantasy that we want and expect from this kind of movie—the big romantic moments like our hero and heroine galloping away from a crowd on horseback—but she also doesn't sweep complications under the rug for the sake of a feel-good vibe. I was initially disappointed in the film's ending, feeling that it departed somewhat from the intelligence the film had shown up to that point, but after listening to Coolidge's commentary and the interview footage with screenwriter Katherine Fugate, I gained a greater understanding of what the filmmakers were trying to do, and I approve of their choice. A few tweaks might have made their intentions clearer, which would have made the ending more satisfying, but ultimately I felt that the ending does not cheat the audience.
Paramount offers The Prince & Me in a very handsomely accessorized special edition. This single-disc edition offers more extras than any comparable movie I can think of, and the content is also quite good. The director commentary by Coolidge focuses largely on the technical side of filmmaking, but it also offers some character insight and discusses the dilemma of the film's ending. The eight deleted and extended scenes include the alternate ending as well as a scene that would have been welcome in the final film, in which we see Queen Rosalind beginning to recognize that Paige is not just a golddigger. Since the queen makes a rather abrupt about-face in the film as it stands, it's a shame this scene wasn't retained. Others are more minor, and it's easy to see why they were cut down or removed.
We also receive a good number of featurettes, and it's a pleasant surprise to find that they don't recycle each other, as is the case with so many other releases I've seen. The most comprehensive of these featurettes is "Inside the Fairy Tale," which is the only featurette to include interview clips with Stiles, Mably, Miller, Fox, Richardson, the three screenwriters, and the producer. This 13-minute featurette packs a lot in, including character descriptions and further discussion of the decision of how the film would end. Miller and Mably also talk about the character research they did by going out in public as the prince and his assistant, which is very amusing. The 14-minute featurette "The Look of The Prince & Me" goes into detail about the production and costume design, as well as the careful use of different color palettes to enhance the sense of divide between the movie's two worlds. The six-and-a-half-minute featurette on the lawnmower race sequence offers an enjoyable glimpse into the real-life world of racing souped-up riding mowers and the mechanics of filming this sequence. There is also a gag reel that clocks in at two and a half minutes, which is subdued and only mildly entertaining but at least doesn't use giddy music to convince us of how adorable it is. Finally, the theatrical trailer is included.
Audiovisual quality is extremely handsome on this release. The visual transfer simply glows; it shows off to full effect the gorgeous use of color and the European scenery (filmed in Prague and Denmark). Detail is sharp, and I saw no flaws whatever. The audio mixes are also clear and full, and well balanced in the film itself, although the music in the featurettes was mixed a smidgen louder than the voices.
The term "chick flick" has become so derogatory that it's encouraging to find a film that fits into that category without insulting its target audience—and that offers as much development for its hero as for its heroine. The Prince & Me is a surprisingly smart film, with a sweet central romance and a lot of humor. It's a treat for both those who love fairy tales and those who know that real life doesn't come with the guarantee of a happy ending. Even the guys who get roped into watching it unwillingly will find things to enjoy here, such as the opening car race. The bounteous extras sweeten the experience even further.
This court never likes to rule against royalty, much less romantics. The defendant is exonerated of all charges and is free to gallop off into the sunset.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Martha Coolidge
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