Saturday, November 18, 2006

Movie Review: Ella Enchanted

The Movie: Ella Enchanted
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes
The Plot: Based on Gail Carson Levine's award winning novel, this is the story of Ella, a young woman who was given a "gift" of obedience by a fairy named Lucinda. Anything anyone tells her to do, she must obey. When her mother passes away, Ella is cared for by her thoughtless and greedy father who remarries a loathsome woman with two treacherous daughters. This modern-day, fantasy Cinderella features fairies, ogres and well as a hero in the guise of Prince Charmont, whom Ella falls in love with. Unlike Cinderella though, Ella must depend on herself and her intelligence to get her through her troubles and find Lucinda in order for her "curse" to be broken!
[Yanked from IMDB as always.]

And They All Learned A Valuable Lesson: It's wrong to force people to do things against their will! A subversively libertarian film!

Comments/Review: The first thing I wanted to discuss about this movie is the comedy. The comedy in this movie is primarily based on 3 things: 1) Updating fairy tale conventions or placing modern innovations into the fairy tale world; 2) Broad political/social satire, and; 3) The inherent humor of Ella's situation of being forced to do whatever anybody intentionally or unintentionally tells her to do. The comedy in this film that is based on points 1 and 2 above is very bad. As in, not just not funny, but actually distracting. There is enough humor to be had from her inherent situation, that they could just use it to dot the various scenes, while keeping the light, charming tone throughout the rest of the movie. This is definitely not the movie to watch if you are in the mood for a humorous comedy.

That being said, there ARE several things that this movie does have to recommend it. First and foremost among these is Anne Hathaway, who is one of my favorite current actresses. I find Anne to be instantly likeable in these kinds of roles (i.e. this film and the Princess Diaries movies). I see now that she is trying to be respected as a serious dramatic actress. And she is good in those roles too! However, I hope she doesn't give up on the "cute" acting forever, because she is really good at it. We need a romantic comedy for her, stat. In any event, she really sells this role and this movie. In order for the film to work, we need to understand her plight, and feel sorry for her, and just legitimately like her and want to root for her. PLUS, the love story with Char has to be believable, in both her initial hatred, and her eventual love of him. So, while these roles seem easy, they are really deceptively difficult to pull off, as I have noted time and time again on this blog. Anyways, Anne is a pro, and pulls off all of the aspects of the role very well. And oh yeah, she's super hot.

The supporting characters in this film don't really make the film, but they do add a bit to it. Minnie Driver is pretty good in her role as Ella's nice aunt. The EVIL stepsisters and stepmother are, in fact, believably evil and unlikeable, as is Cary Elwes as the Claudius ripoff. Cary Elwes as always I like a lot, but the stepsisters and stepmother manage to be too annoying and unlikeable. You want to dislike them for the plot to go along, but it's probably not a good thing to constantly wish for the scene to end swiftly every single time they are on the screen. Other than them though, I do like the other team of good guys, elves, giants, ogres, et al.

Ultimately, what this film has going for it, above all else is that is incredibly charming and cute. The tone of this movie is extremely light and fun throughout, even while going over very dark and serious material. They always do a good job of mixing in the serious scenes with the more comedic scenes, to keep the movie going along. All in all this is one of the cutest and most charming movies I've ever seen! Like the best of the movies of this type, it picks one consistent message and tone, sticks with both all throughout the movie, without ever taking itself too seriously. The romance is charming and believable, Ella's plight is presented in mostly a funny and not tragic way, and all the "danger" that they get in throughout the way is always presented in a light way. And when the film does turn tragic and serious towards the end, the serious scenes are always punctuated with light and funny scenes featuring the supporting cast. Plus the light and funny scenes and the romance set up throughout the movie give those serious scenes a real emotional punch that is normally missing in a film like this. A feel-good classic.

Oh yeah, and also this. A pop cover of Queen's "Somebody To Love"! Brilliant! The movie also starts with Darren Hayes' pretty good pop cover of "Strange Magic". One of my favorite scenes I can think of in a recent film.

I gather from some research on the internet that this film is extremely disliked by fans of the book. This is often true of movie adaptations of books, but I gather it's much more extreme than usual in this case. But all I have ever read on why they dislike it basically boils down to "It was different from the book". Yeah, when there's a film adaptation of a book you really like and you are really looking forward to it, it can be very disappointing when the movie is so incredibly different. I can understand that. But when the movie is so entertaining on its own merits, who cares! (Note that I've never read the book, and I never plan to.)

The Official Opinion of the TCR: Good acting work (and, yeah, some eye candy) by Anne Hathaway, a nice little message, and the tone kept throught the movie elevate this above the average "cute" movie, and make it one of my favorite "cute" movies of all time. 8.5/10. Highly recommended, as long as you are able to go in to it separate from any expectations the book may have created.



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