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Cinderella (A Movie Review)



Starring Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Tallulah Greive, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, James Acaster, James Corden, Romesh Ranganathan, Missy Elliott, Luke Latchman, Fra Fee, Beverley Knight, Mary Higgins, Nikkita Chadha, Natasha Patel and Lisa Spencer.

Screenplay by Kay Cannon.

Directed by Kay Cannon.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 113 minutes. Rated PG.

A matter of moments into the new musical version of the classic fairytale Cinderella, the inhabitants of a Victorian-era village break into a complexly choreographed theatrical performance of Janet Jackson’s old single “Rhythm Nation.”

Oh, it’s one of those musicals, huh?

It turns out that “Rhythm Nation” was done as a medley with “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree – another 1990s single that these villagers would have had no way of knowing.

I’m not going to lie; I always find it majorly annoying when period or fantasy musicals awkwardly shoehorn totally inappropriate hit singles from the recent past into their soundtrack. How would these characters know these songs which haven’t even been written yet in the film’s timeline? Write your own songs already.

Thankfully only about half of the music from Cinderella is made up of spruced-up old songs that have nothing to do with the story the movie is telling. So, that’s something, I guess.

As is often the case with this type of musical, the songs they choose seem sort of random. Some of the other songs used in Cinderella include Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” Earth Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star,” Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong?” and an odd mash-up of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man” with the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”

I mean I get that this version of Cinderella has nothing to do with the Disney versions, so we can’t expect them to use “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” or “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” However, this does bring up a question: What does the new Cinderella have to offer that we can’t get from the classic Disney animation, or even the hit 2015 live-action update?

This Cinderella is helmed by Pitch Perfect creator Kay Cannon, and it is a postmodern, winkingly ironic look at the classic story. The new film is trying hard to be irreverent – they cast Billy Porter as the Fairy Godmother, for heaven’s sake – and it is likable for its cheeky comic take on a slightly hackneyed fable.

It stars popular singer Camila Cabello, who turns out to be a very charismatic screen presence – mixing a smart hipness with a charming naivete. In fact, the only slight complaint I have about her performance is that her voice is not quite strong enough for the powerhouse ballad “Million to One,” which is the film’s centerpiece. Even though Cabello herself cowrote the song, she can’t quite hit all the high notes and her voice comes off sounding a little whiny. And they return to the song two or three times throughout the run time, so it is even more noticeable. However, otherwise Cabello totally nails the role.

Broadway diva Idina Menzel plays the wicked stepmother as irretrievably, almost comically awful, which is what the character requires – although towards the end she is briefly allowed some humanity and just as quickly reverts to evilness. Her vocals are spot-on, even when some of the songs are not quite worthy of her talents. (Ironically, “Dream Girl,” a song which Menzel cowrote and sings, turns out to be a bit of a weak spot in the score.)

Also, as much as I love him as an actor, you’d think that after Mamma Mia people would have learned not to let Pierce Brosnan sing. However, it is played broadly for comedy, and he does good naturedly show off his tone-deafness as a song stylist as Minnie Driver mocks his lack of skills.

In the end, it is this kind of irreverence to the text that makes Cinderella mostly succeed as a film. It doesn’t take itself or its story too seriously, it just brings a classic tale to the modern day and has a whole lot of fun in doing it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: September 2, 2021.

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