Here's something you don't see everyday: a true, live-action fairytale. And it's not revisionist, either. There's no Snow White and the Hunter tough heroine vibe, or Maleficent's ah-she-ain't-so-bad vibe. This movie is about a waif who finds a prince, nothing more, nothing less.
That's not really a complaint. The complaint is that this version of Cinderella has no teeth. The wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett) is wicked-ish. The stepsisters are more like dolts than nasty out-for-blood jerks. And there is assuredly no cutting off of toes to get a foot in a glass slipper.
That's a long way of saying this movie is for people who are princesses (or princes) at heart—in which case, grow up—or for people with young and relatively undiscerning children.
The story, for the three people who don't remember, concerns Ella (Lily James), who, in the course of 15 minutes, loses her mother to an undefined illness, gains a yucky stepmother (Blanchett) when her simpleton father (Ben Chaplin; remember him?) remarries, and then becomes an orphan when pop croaks while doing some underdeveloped professional gig on the road. Soon after, stepmother makes Ella a servant for she and her two rotten daughters, and life generally sucks. But prettily.
See, no one whose face is covered in ash looks as sprightly as Ella does. (The stepsisters start calling her "Cinderella" because of the cinders on her mug.) But it's a fairytale, right?
One day, while escaping the grim workload by horseback riding bareback in the woods, Ella meets cute with Kit (Richard Madden, doing a James Marsden impersonation), who's the prince, and who's hunting, and who's immediately smitten.
But life intrudes, Ella goes home, and to find her, the prince throws a ball and invites the entire kingdom, including commoners. And there's Ella's chance! Until her stepmother tells her to go screw.
Enter Helena Bonham Carter (OF COURSE) as the fairy godmother. Before long, lizards, mice, pumpkins and glass slippers are in the mix, and Cinderella is turning heads at the ball.
You know what happens next. There's no mystery, no intrigue, and director Kenneth Branagh—the guy who made an anti-war Henry V while still delivering the speeches that would make the layperson want to enlist—doesn't push buttons. He does give one of his favorite actors, Derek Jacobi, a bright spot as the king, but Stellan Skarsgård is a limp grand duke. Seriously, the guy who can make mathematics seem dangerous in Good Will Hunting can't muster anything beyond a wry smirk here?
Look, I understand that this movie is not necessarily for me, and that Disney isn't going to make a balls-to-the-wall version of this story featuring a shotgun-toting princess (not that that’s the solution, either). I just want there to be something resembling conflict other than Blanchett’s rather overblown but curiously dull stepmother.
Of course, the two people sitting behind me thought this was the best movie they'd ever seen. Granted, they looked as if they hadn't been in the sun in six years, but they were delighted nonetheless. Maybe that's what you need to enjoy this Cinderella—being locked away for years and years and rescued by a trip to the multiplex. The production design is beautiful but everything else is flat.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
With James, Blanchett, and Carter
Regal Stadium 14