Dir: Kay Cannon. Starring: Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan. PG, 115 mins.
Amazon’s new take on an old, perennial fairytale supposedly sprang forth from the imagination of one James Corden. That is, if you consider the words “Cinderella, but she’s a girlboss” meaty enough to be considered an original concept. He certainly didn’t come up with the idea of casting an en vogue pop star in the lead (in this case, Camila Cabello) – not when Disney’s 1997 adaptation already featured both Brandy and Whitney Houston. Neither is this the first reimagined Cinderella to feature Minnie Driver, a plucky, modernised heroine and the Queen track “Somebody to Love”. That’ll be 2004’s Ella Enchanted, with Anne Hathaway. And, despite this film positioning Cinderella as an aspiring fashion designer, is there a reason its gowns look like copyright-dodging Halloween costumes based on Disney’s 2015 adaptation starring Lily James? At least Andrew Lloyd Webber and Emerald Fennell’s just-launched West End musical had the initiative to give her a punk makeover.
In the end, all that differentiates this Cinderella from her predecessors is a voracious appetite for capitalism. While her evil stepmother (Idina Menzel) frets about finding a prosperous match for her daughters – here, she’s more of a Mrs Bennet-type than anything outrightly villainous – Cinderella works away in the basement, tossing different coloured tulles on top of each other and calling them dresses. And when the kingdom’s handsome, wayward prince (Nicholas Galitzine) falls madly in love with her and stages a ball in order to win her hand, poor Cinderella must choose between work and love. It’s a centuries-old fairytale restructured to have the same plot as your average Hallmark Christmas film.
Cinderella is sorely lacking in feminist credentials. Its protagonist recognises the limitations of her fairytale world – it’s verboten for women to own businesses – yet only works to better her own life. If she can land some foreign clientele at the ball and secure her own financial future, who needs solidarity or sisterhood? There’s even something telling in the way Cinderella never forms a bond with the film’s other #YesSheCan-branded enterpriser, Princess Gwen (Our Ladies’s Tallulah Greive). She has her eyes on the throne, but the path has been blocked by the existence of a male sibling. These two determined women cross paths without ever thinking to combine forces – focused only on their own goals and desires. It’s the myopic “girlboss” ideology down to a tee, and it drenches every inch of this film in calculated cynicism – which might not be all that much of a surprise considering its writer-director, Kay Cannon, adapted the 2014 memoir that first originated the term into a short-lived Netflix series.
The idea to cast Billy Porter as Fab G, a genderless fairy godparent? Wonderful, if the actor’s role actually extended beyond pumping up Cinderella with a few “Yasss, future Queen, yasss!” slogans. Cabello herself is perfectly capable of delivering the relatable, upbeat princess routine – and has a sweet, poppy voice to match – but Cannon’s film doesn’t really know what to do with a pop star whose public image consists of little more than a few catchy singles and an obsession over her dating life. There are a handful of original songs, that all seem vaguely in the vein of Cabello’s past work. There is also one treasured opportunity for Menzel – of Wicked and Frozen fame – to belt like we all know she can. But lacking in anything genuinely memorable, the film then throws in a few largely nonsensical jukebox tracks (a mash-up of “Whatta Man” and “Seven Nation Army”? Sure.)
Corden, of course, delivers his usual shtick as one of Cinderella’s rodent companions, who all have inexplicably oversized, misshapen heads here. In fact, the only actors who don’t seem content to settle into autopilot are the film’s own King and Queen, Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver – the former sporting some magnificent musketeer whiskers. They’re detached from the calculated posturing that surrounds them, just two famous people enjoying themselves in silly costumes. That said, hopefully they’ll give it a pass when it comes time to make the version of Sleeping Beauty where she “leans in” by investing in Bitcoin before falling into an eternal sleep.