Directed by Kay Cannon
Screenplay by Kay Cannon, based on “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault
Starring Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, Nicholas Gallitzine, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan, Tallulah Greive
Kay Cannon (“Blockers,” “30 Rock,” “Pitch Perfect” series) is undoubtedly an important figure in Hollywood to break the glass ceiling; she has performed in and has directed empowered women into modern times. She is to be commended for her efforts.
In her adaptation of Charles Perrault’s classic “Cinderella,” Cannon uses music to push the boundaries even further. Camila Cabello inhabits the role of the shushed princess-to-be. Her musical talents elevate the production to a whole new level. Consider that my neck was sore from all the bopping I did to the tunes carried in the story. Despite the music, “Cinderella” ends up being a story full of one-dimensional characters and misplaced dialogue.
The story of “Cinderella” is not new: the ugly stepmother, Vivian (Idina Menzel), and her stepsisters (Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer) put Cinderella down at every opportunity. Cinderella wants more out of her life, to be more than the sum of her parts. Because of her situation, she is not allowed to do so, partly for political reasons and partially because she is confined to the basement. Cannon defines the role as someone talented and, given the right circumstances, would flourish.
The challenge with Cannon’s “Cinderella” is that it ends up being one-note. A modern-told story of a king whose buffoonery doesn’t befit him, a queen who is tired of being a figurehead with no say but quite a bit of quarter. Their children, a prince who pouts more than he follows his father’s lead (see exhibit A) and a princess full of ideas that would enhance the kingdom, only to offer them at every wrong opportunity, round out the royal family.
Dysfunction rues King Rowan’s life and family, a man bent on tradition without being able to see past his nose. Pierce Brosnan brings dignity to a performance that doesn’t warrant it; gone are the charms we are accustomed to, replaced with ill-conceived reprimands and, ultimately, apologies. Minnie Driver plays Queen Beatrice. Beatrice’s struggles to fit the rule of the land were disappointing, not necessarily because of the performance, but because of the way the character is injected into the situation.
The devilishly handsome Nicholas Gallitzine plays Prince Robert, a son who handily refuses to follow his father’s footsteps. Instead, he wants to branch out on his own, and outside, the royal family spends most of his time gallivanting around, pouting when he doesn’t get what he wants. The romance scenes between him and Cabello are well-staged, but that isn’t their common interest. Cannon eventually offers a truce bringing Cinderella and Robert together.
For a musical, one of too many in 2021 (“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “West Side Story”), thanks to Covid, “Cinderella” gets most of its beats right, as the cast retool classic pop songs for a new generation. Yet, the music drowns out what little story there is. Unlike “In the Heights,” where the story flows from the music, the music grinds “Cinderella” to a halt.
In a story filled with opportunities for everyone to grow, each character has a single-minded approach to those opportunities; “I want what’s better for me.” It is, ultimately, the next generation with bold ideas to move the entirety of the kingdom forward. The story leads us to this point, and when it arrives, we’re hardly surprised that an overemphasis on feminism as a lynchpin to the character’s happiness is on the agenda.
As Cinderella’s footmen, James Acaster, James Corden and, Romesh Ranganathan were impressive with their humor, as did Billy Porter’s Fab G, the genderless fairy godparent.
One scene that rises above the story’s station is a truly heartfelt conversation between Cinderella and Vivian, resulting in the only actorly moment. Menzel doesn’t eat crow, but Cannon uses it as a teaching moment that resounds loudly.
“Cinderella” was destined for theaters when Sony sold it to Amazon, appearing in theaters and on Prime starting today.
Is that one moment amidst a small handful of performances enough to salvage the film for future generations? No. “Cinderella” is too self-involved and one-note for it to make a difference. It will undoubtedly be impressionable on “X Factor” fans. There is a legitimate push for the agenda to move forward, one I fully support. “Cinderella” is not the movie to carry that flag on.
PG, 113 minutes, Amazon Studios/Sony Pictures