Once upon a time, Cinderella dreamed of owning a business. Or so the story goes in Kay Cannon’s new movie, which drags the princess tale into the 21st century with Top-40 pop songs, self-aware dialogue and a trite girlboss sensibility.
Among the countless iterations the story has weathered through the ages, this “Cinderella” (streaming on Amazon), starring Camila Cabello as the orphaned maiden, is forgettable. It is oddly transfixing, though, as a study in the semiotics of the modernized fairy tale. In this anachronism-laden kingdom, Ella fantasizes not about princes on steeds but about becoming a ball gown tycoon. “You’re gonna know my name,” she belts out in an original opening number, as she imagines a bazaar shop called Dresses by Ella.
This craving for corporate success takes the place of other, more familiar Cinderella story themes. The flinty Stepmother (Idina Menzel) receives a series of singalong numbers, while the Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter) delivers sassy punch lines and a few wand waves. But neither matriarchal figure shares a meaningful connection with our heroine, and even Ella’s dead mother, whose presence often hovers over Cinderella stories, barely matters; early on, Ella happily sells her late mother’s heirloom broach as part of an original dress design.
Dialogue also receives an update. Forget “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”: Here, the town crier raps, the ne’er-do-well Prince (Nicholas Galitzine) banters with his sovereign bros and the stuffy King (Pierce Brosnan) and Queen (Minnie Driver) harrumph over whose throne is taller. Everyone speaks in concrete, self-referential terms — a du jour dialogue styling often associated with screenwriting by Joss Whedon. “Yes, I was just crying and singing about it, like, two minutes ago,” Ella whines, when the Godmother asks if she wants to go to the ball.
There are hints of the pep and panache that enlivened fizzier jukebox musicals like “Pitch Perfect,” for which Cannon wrote the screenplay. But with a narrative this asinine, even Driver crooning the opening notes to “Let’s Get Loud” is hard to appreciate. Ella uses the ball as a networking event, the monarchy lets a woman lean in at the table and everyone lives obnoxiously ever after, at least until the next Cinderella remake.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes. Watch on Amazon.
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