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Ever After: A Cinderella Story

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Ever After: A Cinderella Story

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston
Director: Andy Tennant
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: June 1998
Genre: Romance

*Also starring: Dougray Scott, Patrick Godfrey, Teodoro Maniaci, Melanie Lynskey, Jeroen Krabbe, Richard O'Brien

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The renowned D'oyly Carte opera company went out of business some years back because though they were the world's foremost interpreters of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, they persisted in performing the masters like museum pieces. Updating classics is often a wise idea. A good emendation can make a dying masterpiece appear fresh and contemporary. Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" was once successfully performed in a Toyota salesroom rather than a medieval Japanese town, and the title character in recent productions of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" often totes a piece and bears a striking resemblance to Mussolini. Cinderella is an ideal tale to bring up to date since it lacks an authentic rendering anyway. With five hundred versions of the story in circulation, the famed beauty is up for grabs by any author who can put a fashionable spin on it.

"Ever After" is a Cinderella for the nineties, keeping the charred woman in the Sixteenth Century but making her anything but the helpless lass in the fantasies of the Grimm brothers, whose variant is the most popular in the west. If Alexander Graham Bell had lived in the 1500s, this Cinderella would nonetheless not be waiting by the phone for a call from her prince or even from a baron. Active where the Grimms' heroine was passive and stubborn as a terrier when the situation calls for obduracy, the female of director Andy Tennant's project discovers that you can get your prince by insisting on equality just as others get their noble beaux by downcast eyes.

As the wicked stepmother Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) says, "Do not speak unless you can improve the silence." Whether or not Danielle (Drew Barrymore) does indeed enhance the hush depends on your point of view. If you're Rodmilla, nothing she says or does can make you happy, and if you're her beautiful but catty stepsister Marguerite (Megan Dodds), you're competition at best, an embarrassing commoner at worst. Stepsister #2, Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) would like to side with Marguerite but this time around she is mostly a cipher, though secretly on the side of Cindy.

Forget the pumpkin. "Ever After" sounds like a fairy tale but it's more of a contemporary royal romance than a pixie- like plot. After the sudden death of her beloved father Auguste (Jeroen Krabbe), Danielle loses all her status as his cherished little girl and is forced to work as a domestic in her stepmother's home. On several occasions, she runs into Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), the heir to the throne of France, and though she beans him with an apple the first time around, she soon develops a speaking relationship. During their sessions in the countryside, she describes to him her political philosophy which she has culled from her dad's favorite book, "Utopia" by Sir Thomas More. Recall that More, the early 16th century writer once said "They wonder much to hear that gold, which in itself is so useless a thing, should be everywhere so much esteemed that even men for whom it was made are thought of less value than it." In other words the writer was a true democrat, and Danielle is to influence French politics by convincing the prince that thieves are not bad people, because "a thief cnanot help himself if you suffer a man to be ill-educated." On another occasion she advises, "Rustics are the legs of a country and deserve respect."

Aside from these scenes which exploit political science to further feeling of amour, there's a feeble bit of swordplay between Henry and a gypsy band, a few scenes of silly peasant women virtually fainting at the sight of royalty, one of Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey) walking on water, and one of Marguerite whining "I wanted one four-minute egg, not four one-minute eggs." Henry is finally sold on marriage to Danielle when the young woman charges, "You own all the land, yet can find no pleasure in working it," to which the prince, intoxicated by her feminism, recounts how "You swim alone, climb rocks, and free servants."

No doubt that Andy Tennant has brought the famous fable up to date, but does he really improve the silence? For the most part his update has good comedic touches, strong feminist purport, and entertaining vistas. The picture is seriously marred by Dougray Scott, who may remind you of Antonio Banderas but displays none of the charm of that flamboyant Spanish actor. He delivers his lines in a monotone and has the charisma of a French souffle. Anjelica Huston does a surprisingly good comic turn as the malevolent mom who wants only the best for her own daughters but meets her comeuppance from the queen, and Drew Barrymore plays to type as a 20th century independent woman who discovers that feistiness, not pliability, ultimately triumphs.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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