About a decade ago, Kay Cannon’s script for Pitch Perfect became one among the foremost endearing, funny, and commercially successful female-led films in recent memory. It’s a pointy screenplay, crammed with wit and self-awareness, and it’s realized beautifully with a top-notch cast, a lightweight directing touch, and music that, you know, works within the context of the film a few competitive colleges a cappella group. Cannon has earned several writing credits since then, including the sequels that followed Pitch Perfect alongside a couple of television episodes, too. Now, she steps behind the camera (only her second time within the role) to direct her own adaptation of 1 of the foremost classic fairy tales in global culture, that of Cinderella.
Her version, a muddy mixture of contemporary sensibilities during a non-descript middle-aged setting, is absent all the charm and enchantment of both her own earlier works which are usually inherent to the well-known narrative. Versions of the Cinderella story exist in cultures around the world (a fact I only discovered once I wrote a university paper on this actual fact, so indoctrinated to the Disney version was I), and nearly every version ends an equivalent way: a lowly commoner ascends to the throne, marrying the monarch just by virtue of captivating his attention in a method or another. The pervasiveness of this particular tale of familial in-fighting, unjust oppression, and happily-ever-after doesn’t seem to diminish our obsession with it, whilst society’s ever-evolving views change the ways we appreciate it (or don’t).
All that to mention, Cannon had her work cut out for her from the get-go if her goal was because it seems to be, to reimagine the fable for up to date, #MeToo moment while maintaining the fairy tale elements that make the story as enduring because it is. The resulting film, something sort of a jukebox musical (but not quite); something sort of a feminist rallying cry (but not quite); something sort of a slapstick comedy (but not quite) is instead just a hodge-podge of emotional tones and a multitude of minor characters, all of whom have the potential to steal the show but none of whom do.
Our Cinderella this point around is Camila Caballo, a worldwide pop star in her title who’s dabbled in films between stadium tours. Perhaps she brings gravitas and confidence to those performances, where she has a whole stage at her disposal, pyrotechnics and costume changes galore, and a crowd of thousands cheering her on. Here, she is woefully out of place as a mousy Cinderella with zero charisma who dreams of creating and selling her own dresses, building a “girl boss” empire without having to believe a person for any of it. This Cinderella is relegated to the family’s basement, though her “evil” stepmother (who is basically just…misunderstood?) and stepsisters (played by Idina Menzel, Maddie Baillio, and Charlotte Spencer, respectively) don’t seem to demand many degrading chores of her. She’s just the orphan her father left behind when he died, in order that they can’t be bothered, apparently.
Meanwhile, within the palace, King Rowan (Pierce Brosnan) and Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver) try desperately to urge their son, Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), to know what his inheriting the throne really means and therefore the importance of creating an honest match in marriage. While he’s simpering and moaning about how hard his life is, sister Gwen (Tallulah Grieve) pokes her head out now then together with her own progressive ideas about the way to evolve the dominion. Perhaps the foremost interesting part of Cannon’s reimagining of the story, Gwen is that the most woefully underdeveloped part within the whole film; her role is ultimately pivotal within the happy ending Cannon has concocted, but rather than giving young girls (and audiences everywhere) already crazy with this story a replacement, a modern heroine to urge behind while Cinderella does her ball/slipper/prince thing, the Princess is instead nothing quite a running gag throughout. It’s a frustrating choice, dangling because it does the thought of some real ingenuity during this stale old fable, but Cannon never commits thereto, much less anything.
the simplest known musical versions of Cinderella are Disney’s mid-century animated version which of Rodgers and Hammerstein, performed on stage also as in several film adaptations (all of which are better than whatever this mess is). Here, Cannon and her creative team make the baffling option to concoct some inexplicable blend of existing, classic pop songs (Rhythm Nation! Somebody to Love! Material Girl!) with new tracks (Caballo’s main theme, “Million to One” is already making the rounds on radio stations…),
causing a replacement kind of dissonance or audio whiplash, bouncing between the 2 . Am I alleged to be jamming to familiar songs utilized in new and charming ways (though they aren’t, here)? Am I alleged to be charmed by new melodies meant to be future classics (none of which these will be)? Landing somewhere within the middle makes a multitude of the whole musical format and renders it nearly impossible to enjoy any of the various splashy musical numbers. There’s plenty more to be annoyed by during this adaptation (please, don’t even get me started about the mice and their “front tails”), but suffice it to mention all the updating Cannon seems to be attempting here instead of so drastically jumbles any singular vision she might’ve had for the story that it’s impossible to ascertain any of it clearly.
within the film’s final act, like Cinderella and therefore the Prince attempt to find how to be together—this heroine doesn’t want to offer up her dressmaking dream, at least—there’s such potential for truly reinventing what “happily ever after” means for Cinderella that the way it’s all ultimately resolved is all the more disappointing. Though he adhered more closely to the normal telling of the story, its heroine’s happiness seemingly hooked into marrying a prince, Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 version a minimum of gives Cinderella the lady a past, a history, an emotional depth that ultimately drives her decisions and priorities. I maybe wouldn’t make the equivalent choices she does, but I can a minimum of understanding why she’s on the trail she’s on. There’s no such depth anywhere to be found in Cannon’s take, hard because it might attempt to modernize the narrative. which ultimately makes this plan to do so a laughable disaster.