Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fangirl Film Rambles: Cinderella Stories

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Hello friends and welcome back to Fangirl Film Rambles! After a winter break, Molly and Ale are back, this time with non-magical adaptations of the most classic of classic tales. 

This month we’ll be looking at the 2004 teenage rom-com A Cinderella Story and the 1998 full-on pseudo-historical romance Ever After. Both films are based on the same mythical story of rags to riches without the element of magic present in the most famous version of the tale. 

Let’s take a look, then!


A Cinderella Story 

After losing her father to an earthquake, Sam lives with her horrid stepmother and twin stepsisters, working her way to an early graduation so she can go off to college. She has a secret relationship with a mystery man online who wants to meet in person at the Halloween dance. They meet, but upon finding out her mystery man is Austin Ames, the most popular boy in school, Sam gets nervous about revealing her true identity. 

It is written by Leigh Dunlap and directed by Mark Rosman (who directed episodes of Lizzie McGuire). It stars Hilary Duff as Sam, as well as Chad Michael Murray, Jennifer Coolidge, and Regina King.


Ale: I remember loving this movie to bits when I first watched this at thirteen, and I must admit I hadn’t seen it in easily twelve to thirteen years. I imagined it would have its problems but yikes

I suspect back then it was my massive crush on Hilary Duff and my immaturity that did not let me see the amount of problems with this movie. Mainly the romance. I don’t remember ever being a fan of Austin (Chad Michael Murray) but boy do I not like him. 

Molly: Yeah I…well, due to being trans and thus spending my early years socialized as a boy, I never really got a chance to be a fan of Hilary Duff one way or another. Lizzie Maguire was a ‘girl show’ and not something I really had any interest in. Add to that my general mixed feelings about ‘fairy tales in modern-day’ films and this film more or less remained firmly under my radar until the time came to watch it for this review. 

But don’t worry, I’m fairly certain that if I had seen it when it first came out, I’d have missed most of the more problematic elements of this film too. Youth and the time we’re raised in can obscure a lot.

Ale: I’ll be honest, I think I was just all about Hilary at that moment (and yes, I was also 13). But yeah, there are several things that made me cringe this time around. 

I especially hate the furthering of the women-hating women trend that is so common in this type of old teen flicks. Shelby and Fiona, especially, are characters awarded no further depth than “I want to look pretty and I am evil” and… that’s it. At least the sisters leave a little leeway for imagining why they act the way they do–with the way their mother treats them.

Molly: First and foremost, of course, the obligatory ‘haha you’re old’ (I was 10 when this movie came out).

But yeah, this is Mean Girls without any tongue in cheek, Heathers without any bite. It’s too harsh to be amusing and too soft to be either. It has nothing to say, it just wanted to be the first to put Cinderella in the 2000s. And that’s…kinda why I don’t think there’s much to say about it. It happened, it was there, and it’s not great in hindsight.


Ever After

In 16th Century France, Danielle works as a servant in her late father’s household, a victim of her stepmother’s abuse. She disguises herself as a courtier to save one of her father’s oldest servants and there she catches the eye of Prince Henry, an immature man.  Smitten with her, he keeps seeking her out, but the longer it goes on, the harder the ruse is to maintain.

Drew Barrymore stars as Danielle, with Dougray Scott, Anjelica Huston, Menalie Lynskey, and Patrick Godfrey as Leonardo DaVinci. 

Initial Reactions

Ale: Listen. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I knew it was the better of the two, I knew it was a bit of an unfair game, but man, I did not remember how much. 

This is a good darn movie. Drew Barrymore is unbelievably lovely in this. I buy the romance and root for it one thousand percent. The prince is a dick but I also get why she falls for him. I mean, Leonard DaVinci is the fairy godmother. How much better can it get? 

I mean, the film does take some–nay, a lot of historical liberties, but it makes me sigh and swoon and cry a little bit each time I watch it, so who cares that Henry II married a Medici in real life!

Molly: Look, the Disney version of Cinderella will always hold a special place in my heart (the original animated one, not the live-action abomination). That being said, hold me down, and make me say what cinematic adaptation of the classic fairy tale is the best, and I will admit to it being Ever After pretty much every time. There’s no real contest. 

Sure, there’s a part of me that always sighs when a fairy tale adaptation goes out of its way to remove the ‘fairy’ aspect, to put everything in the mundane and plausible. But…that acting! Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston! The costumes, the set designs, making our ‘Cinderella’ a BAMF! This is what the live-action Disney version was trying to be and it missed but I can’t blame them because look how good it was when it landed!

Ale: I have a lot of love for the magic elements of Cinderella, and I have to say I have at least an aesthetic admiration for the Disney live-action. 

Molly: It’s a pretty film to be sure, I just…have other issues with it that we’re not here to discuss!

Ale: Though I do feel that the reason Ever After gets it so right is that it takes its very core elements and then lets go of the structure of the original. 

Things like the ball being near the end of the story instead of at the beginning. It just proves the screenwriters got the story, didn’t just add things in because that’s the story and they have to be there. 

Of course, a big part of that is Henry and Danielle having a full-on fling throughout the story, and then him rejecting her as soon as he finds out who he is, proving right all of her social justice rants and reprimands. It’s just. *Chef’s Kiss*

Also, can we talk about Anjelica Huston for a second?

Molly: We can always talk about Anjelica Huston. Even in films she’s not in! I’d be more than happy to just devote a part of every article gushing about our favorite actors, regardless of context.

Ale: There are hints of the baroness’s motivations throughout, but Huston just adds another delicious layer to it, so much that at moments I do feel for this woman who fell in love with a man who went and died on her, and loved her less than he loved his daughter. 

Molly: I’ve never been a super big fan of giving the stepmother much in the way of a personality and motivations. It feels…superfluous, sort of like fleshing out Gaston in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast remake. Some people are entirely explicable in their evil and cruelty, their behaviors all too realistic. Anjelica Huston does a good enough job to pave over that though, and so…yeah, this is a great performance and a great addition!


The princes

Molly: I will always find it hard to care about the princes cause, hey, lesbian. But, of the two, I’m going to go with Henry, cause, well, there’s no real point where he doesn’t like Danielle’s personality. He’s a bit of a dick, sure, but he’s less of a dick than Austin.

Ale: I have decided that, for me, A Cinderella Story ends with the scene where Sam tells Austin he’s a dick and she doesn’t need him. Austin one thousand per-cent does not deserve the instant forgiveness he gets. He saw Sam, talked to her after the dance, and still did not recognize her. That’s more than a bit of nearsightedness. 


The supportive best friend

Ale: This is the only one that is a little tough for me, actually. Carter was a truly sweet, good, supportive friend who didn’t want sex in return for his friendship to Sam. Gustave is also adorable and supportive though. I don’t know, can we call a draw?

Molly: We can, certainly.


The fairy godmother 

Molly: Ever After. Is this…is this a real question?

Ale: Signore Da Vinci! 

Though let’s give props to Rhonda, who was not too shabby a fairy godmother. 

Molly: Rhonda absolutely deserves props, and, to be honest, if we were comparing it to a Disney version she’d win. Against either Disney godmother. But…well…Da Vinci!


The stepsisters

Molly: …again, Ever After. Sorry, it’s just…this is the film that actually made the sisters characters, had them be more than just palette-swapped clones of each other. 

Ale: I feel like the stepsisters were a true missed opportunity in A Cinderella Story. It’s a real shame. 

But yes, Marguerite and Jacqueline for sure. 


The romance–do we buy it or nah?

Ale: When Austin and Sam meet in person for the first time at the dance, Austin asks to play twenty questions, and asks Sam whether she’d prefer a salad or a cheeseburger. 

Of course, the answer is cheeseburger, and then Austin is like “oh I just like a girl with a hearty appetite that also is a size two and has abs, haha you’re not like other girls Sam you’re special because you don’t just care about the way you look–except your perfect hair and manicured hands and feet and completely spotless face which is obviously natural”. Or, you know, something like that.

So, yeah. I hate Austin. He’s not deserving of Sam. She is going to go to college and meet guys (or girls) that are truly deep and interesting and she’s going to dump his ass in the first month. That’s my headcanon. So, no, I don’t buy this romance. Austin can choke. 

Henry doesn’t start off that much better, with the same “woe is me” attitude, feeling like a victim, blind to his privilege. The good thing though, is that Danielle isn’t buying into any of his BS either, and she makes it clear from the get-go. From their first interaction, Henry shows that he is capable of listening. 

He spends the film growing as a person, feeling less like a victim, and becoming energized and excited to use his privilege for the good of others. Meanwhile, being with Henry empowers Danielle to stand up for herself. His admiration and respect reminds her she is worthy of it, something she had let herself forget. 

I mean, this isn’t even a competition. Henry + Danielle for life! I get gooey just thinking of their scenes together.

Molly: Look, a certain degree of leeway must be given to A Cinderella Story and its protagonists on the grounds that they’re teenagers. Just as I won’t judge Ariel her immaturity due to being 16 (even if that makes the wedding at the end…iffy) I’m not going to judge them too harshly.

…Austin can still jump in a lake for all I care of course, and he’s far worse than Henry (for crying out loud man, sometimes people want a salad over a burger, salads can be good!).


Was justice achieved? 

At the end of the day, Cinderella, the tale, is about social justice. It is about a girl who is good and virtuous and has fallen into profoundly unfair misfortune, who then gets what she truly deserves. Those who have wronged her also get their due, and Cinderella–once scrubbing floor with cinder on her cheek–gets to live happily ever after. Cosmic justice is served.

So, the question is: do these adaptations adhere to the spirit of the story? Was justice done and was it done right?

Molly: In the case of Ever After I will say yes to both questions. Danielle got what she deserved, and she worked hard and stayed true to herself, and she did so from a morally good position. I believe she will be a good queen, and have a good life with Henry.

In the case of A Cinderella Story…I don’t see this relationship being healthy or lasting very long at all. So…justice was done, but not necessarily done right.

Ale: True. Though in the case of Fiona, I feel like A Cinderella Story did right by Sam at least. She’s even getting a decent parent out of it. 

Though in both cases, I feel a bit uneasy about the desire for revenge of both heroines. Well, not revenge, necessarily, just retribution. I can’t deny seeing Fiona and especially the baroness blin sided publicly wasn’t immensely satisfying. It was.

Though it did make me feel very uncomfortable. The show Henry and Danielle put on to absolutely obliterate the baroness and Marguerite is downright brutal. I even felt bad. Then again, I do get it. They deserved it. 

That’s it for this round, folks! A light one to start off the year, but in the coming weeks we’ll be looking at some more extensive stuff, from adaptations of Little Women to *drumroll please*, Star Wars. Yeah, that’s right. May the deities of fandom protect us. 

Molly: Thanks for reading, and please be kind!

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and 20th Century FOX

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