In 10 Words or Less
Hilary Duff stars in a badly-written teen fable
Still wearing her innocent Disney-crafted image, Hilary Duff is the last hold-out among the now-slutty teen idols. So it makes perfect sense for her to play the innocent, put-upon heroine of A Cinderella Story, as she needs to be both desirable and admirable, a tough task for a girl who kisses Madonna or has a stripper-worthy chest. But cute, blonde Duff is capable of such a duality.
The story here is an old one (hence the name), so there are no surprises here. Girl is mistreated by her stepmom and stepsisters. Girl meets Prince Charming. Girl has to leave Prince Charming, leaving a memento behind. Prince Charming tries to find the girl. With a ready-made plot, all the filmmakers needed were a location, a female lead, a disposable hunk and a young, hip, happening cast. Duff, of course, is the lead, while non-descript Chad Michael Murray ("One Tree Hill") plays Austin, the boy every girl wants. Together they make one of the most bland on-screen couples of the past 10 years or so.
The movie dives right into the plot, as the search for Cinderella is more important than the big night. After losing her dad in an earthquake, and being forced to live with her stepmom (Jennifer Coolidge, American Pie) and evil stepsisters (Madeline Zima ("The Nanny") and Andrea Avery), Sam (Duff) is in the midst of a junior-league You've Got Mail cyber-relationship with a guy who speaks in poems and flowery prose over e-mail and text messaging. His words are so artificial and over-the-top that I can't even see the most love-blind teen falling for them. Of course, this is his true self that he lets show to only Sam.
With romance in the air, they agree to meet at a masquerade dance, where they will reveal their real identities to each other. When Sam finds out her man is Austin, the egotistical jock, she's at first disappointed, but he wins her over. Then, as the clock nears midnight, she must run away, leaving her cell phone behind. Austin is transfixed, the game is a foot and the search for his true love takes us to the final reel. Slowly. Along the way, a cruel and entirely unrealistic pep rally drives home the point that reality does not exist in the world of A Cinderella Story. These attempts at portraying the clique life of school falls flat because of that lack of realism, an ironic failure considering the many times fantasy is compared to reality in the film.
If the writing was better, this could have been a decent film. As it is, A Cinderella Story could be used as a tool to confuse new arrivals to America. The awkward words stumbling out of each character's mouths are bad, but the patronizing "sum up" lines are even worse. One line, delivered by Carter (Dan Byrd), Sam's sex-less nerdy best friend, near the end of the film, attempts to be the poster tagline, but comes off as simply ridiculous. And sadly, it's not even the worst bit of dialogue. The hip "narrator" character of school DJ Astrid (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick) and vaguely-gay football pal David (Brad Bufanda) compete to see who can deliver a more contrived line.
While overall, this movie is a misfire, oddly enough, there are a few moments that are enjoyable and nearly every one involves Coolidge, the perfect choice for an evil stepmother. Her scenes are so much better than the rest of the film that they should have made a special menu of just her moments. Of course, her two best scenes were used in the trailer, a sad necessity, considering how little there was in the movie to highlight in a preview.
Warner Brothers released A Cinderella Story in widescreen and full-screen versions, and sent the widescreen version for review (thankfully.) The main menu is animated, while the rest are static, but all are anamorphic widescreen. Besides a decent amount of extras and a scene selection menu, there are language options, including English and French 5.1 soundtracks and English, French and Spanish subtitles. Off the language page, you can access brief DVD credits. The disc comes packaged in a keepcase.
The movie looks very nice in anamorphic widescreen, without any evidence of problems with the transfer. Instead of candy colored, this is mainly a pastel kind of film, so the brightness doesn't cause much bleeding or shimmering. Night scenes look fine, especially the shots of Sam's house, which are reference quality, though the blacks could be more solid. The audio is good, but there's not much in the way of surround effects. The mix keeps the music and dialogue separate, which is really the only important thing here.
WB put together quite a few features for this title, surpassing discs for much better movies in terms of quantity. As far as quality goes....
It all starts with "Hanging Out with Hilary and Friends," the commentary, featuring Duff, Murray, Byrd, Zima and Avery. This track is ridiculous, though it has some revealing moments, all unintentional. A near-revolt against text messaging (the core of the plot), is headed off by Duff and turned into a plug for the cell phone company featured in the film, then, the actors are all joking about how they didn't even go to high school, but follow it up with a "stay in school" message. The level of cynicism displayed here is so disturbing, which explains why the movie turned out this way. There's little attempt made to talk about the movie, as they simply riff on teen life and how great each other is. The group's complete lack of interesting things to say is punctuated when one of the participants actually makes mention of a list of questions they were provided with to spur the commentary, and later says "I have nothing left to say," with over an hour left in the movie. Hearing the director and writer apologize for what they've done would have been much more enjoyable. This commentary was obviously aimed at teens, an audience most unlikely to listen, so they've created an extra no one wants to hear. Good job.
"Cinderella Couture: The Making of a Fashionably Modern Fairytale" is a clip-heavy look at the wardrobe design, and how hard it is to make Duff look bad. Well, it's obviously impossible, since she never looks bad, through the entire movie. The design of the key dresses, the masquerade costumes and everyone else's clothes is covered, in detail, in this eight-minute long featurette. They also give away the movie's ending. Good job, again.
The animated "Find Your Prince/Princess Challenge" is a six-question quiz hosted by "Astrid", with the questions asked to those seeking a prince by Murray, and to those looking for a princess by Duff. At the end, depending on your answers, your soul mate is revealed. It's one of the better quiz extras I've seen. By the way, in case you were wondering, the evil stepsisters were my chosen princesses and Austin was my prince.
A music video is also included, presenting Hilary and Haylie Duff's unnecessary cover of The Go-Gos' "Our Lips are Sealed." The track is a paint-by-numbers copy, though it is easily the most enunciated performance of the song I've ever heard. The video features a sexed-up Hilary, singing with Haylie, and has something of a faux-lesbian-incest feel to it. It's followed by a shameless plug of the movie's soundtrack, featuring more of the Duffs.
A second page of features includes full-screen screen tests of the major teen players, including extended video of Duff and Murray. There are no scene selections so it's all one long take. This stuff is only for the obsessed. The same could be said for the additional scenes, which are included on one reel, in letterboxed widescreen. None of them really add to the movie. The theatrical trailer is included in anamorphic widescreen, along with a full-screen PSA for the Kids with a Cause charity, which Duff is the spokesperson for.
The Bottom Line
Teens may like this movie, but they will, hopefully, outgrow it. If any high-schooler actually relates to the characters and the way they speak, they should be put into rehab, because they probably have altered their reality...often. While watching Jennifer Coolidge is always a joy, and there are some smile-worthy moments, on a whole, this is studio-processed crap. Duff has potential, but if she keeps making movies like this, her career will be an empty one. I was tempted to say "rent it" for Coolidge's scenes, but I have some integrity left.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.