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The Princess Diaries

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Princess Diaries

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews
Director: Garry Marshall
Rated: G
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, Larry Miller, Caroline Goodall, Sean O'Bryan, Robert Schwartzman, Erik von Detten, Mandy Moore

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

As Roger Ebert so wisely tells us, it's not the what of a movie: it's the how. In other words, don't decide whether you want to see a picture based on its subject: think of how well the team may have executed the project. Take, for example, the subject of the ordinary person who is transformed into someone transcendent. The Broadway musical "My Fair Lady" not only did the job splendidly but the cast featuring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, using the music and lyrics of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, turned in what is arguably the greatest staged musical of all time. It helped that the play was based on the writing of George Bernard Shaw. Now, it would be a mite unfair to expect Garry Marshal, however remarkable his resume ("Pretty Woman, "Frankie & Johnny," "The Flamingo Kid" and others) using a screenplay by Gina Wendkos from Meg Cabot's novel to come close to Shaw's "Pygmalion." In fact "The Princess Diaries," about the transformation of a high-school geek into royalty, is so loaded with sugar and fatuous dialogue that one can scarcely believe that Mr. Marshal would risk holding the attention of his targeted market, girls 8-13 years old, for an overlong 115 minutes. Though Julie Andrews at sixty-five years of age looks magnificent, she is asked to display all the charm that her English upbringing had given her to hold the story together. All things considered, she succeeds admirably. Without her, "The Princess Diaries" could barely last a weekend at the box office.

Heather Matarazzo, who so dead-on showed us what life is like in the Seventh-Grade-from Hell in Todd Solondz's "Welcome to the Dollhouse" five years ago, is reduced to a supporting role as Lilly, best friend of Mia (Anne Hathaway in her feature film debut), both performing in the role of tenth graders at an preppy San Francisco high school featuring the usual scenarios of bullies, nerds and jocks. Mia, who had recently lost her father in an accident, lives with her mother Helen (Caroline Goodall) in a modest home and rides her scooter to school each day. Invited to the stately home of her grandmother, Clarisse (Julie Andrews)- -who happens as well to be the queen of a European nation- state-- she is startled to be asked to fulfill the dream of every adolescent girl: she is offered the job of princess of the fictional little pear-producing country of Genovia situated between France and Spain (Andorra?). Burdened by her weaknesses as a public speaker and her nerdy appearance (thick eyebrows, ghastly hair), she is certain she could never fulfill the role. But the determined Clarisse puts her make-up guy (Larry Miller) to work on her, shows her how to walk, talk and carry utensils, et voila--a radiant beauty that subverts the essence of Andrew Adamson and Victoria' Jenson's "Shrek." Once again, as is typical of just about every fairy tale, only the most beautiful can find her dream, in this case a kingdom, should she so desire one, and a prince charming to dance with. (Two connivers, in fact, who would be destined to take over the country should Clarisse refuse, are the ugliest people in the film.)

"The Princess Diaries" features the excellent Hector Elizondo as the queen's chauffeur, who enjoys a Queen Victoria-Mr. Brown relationship to her royal highness but Elizondo is a fish out of water. So wonderful in "Tortilla Flat," the actor has now appeared in all of Garry Marshal's movies and has a difficult time maintaining an upper-class accent and bearing.

"The Princess Diaries" is not a bad movie: mediocre would be the best way to describe it, and for all we know it could go over with the teen and sub-teen audience for whom it's directed. Yet given the changes that have been made in our society over the past few decades, I'd be surprised if the young attending this G- rated feature would consider it less than cornball, giving it perhaps a lower rating than the more understanding and indulgent adults who accompany them to the multiplexes.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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