Director: Kay Cannon
Writer: Kay Cannon
Cast: Camila Cabello, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver
Cinematographer: Henry Braham
Editor: Stacey Schroeder
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
’Tis the season for feminist reimaginings of childhood classics, if Cruella, which recently released on DisneyPlus Hotstar, and Cinderella, now on Amazon Prime Video, are any indication. There’s some measure of irony in how both films, the latest in a series of cash grabs via countless remakes of corporate IP, feature women who also harbour big capitalist ambitions dressed up as empowerment. This time, Cinderella doesn’t want a prince, she wants to set up her own clothing boutique. The film resorts to a lazy, unimaginative dichotomy to spoon-feed viewers about the evils of the patriarchy — set in a regressive town with archaic customs, it centers progressive, socially aware characters with catchphrases like, “Yaaaaas queen”. If the anachronistic style was meant to give Cinderella an air of timelessness, all the inclusion of modern sensibilities and slang succeeds in doing instead is ensuring that the film will feel dated soon.
Misogyny runs deep in the kingdom and while some of that is conveyed through clever visual gags, like the King’s daughter standing off awkwardly to the side during council meetings — she literally can’t get a seat at the table — most of it is heavy-handed and clumsy. The equivalent of Amy March’s “marriage is an economic proposition” speech from Little Women (2019) here is Cinderella’s stepmother (Idina Menzel) telling her daughters that they need to marry rich so they can hire someone to pick their undergarments off the floor, and then bursting into a rendition of Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’.
The film’s songs, which characters are prone to breaking into with alarming frequency, are instantly catchy and instantly forgettable in the way that films and shows imagine modern pop to be. “Others, they may cause you tears. Go ahead release your fears,” a lyric from one of them, nails the exact vibe of satirical, purposefully vacuous takes on the pop song like A Star Is Born’s ‘Why Did You Do That?’ and Black Mirror’s ‘On A Roll’, but is sung with full-throated sincerity. At least three song sequences follow Cinderella (Camila Cabello) walking around the house as her expressions cycle through variations of enthusiasm, optimism and wistfulness. The covers are markedly better and go a long way in enlivening the film, especially a spirited mashup of The White Stripes’s ‘Seven Nation Army’ and Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Whatta Man’.
Writer-director Kay Cannon excels at writing warm, insightful female friendships — just watch the Pitch Perfect trilogy or Blockers (2018) — which makes the lack of them in this movie even more conspicuous. The film isn’t interested in exploring Cinderella’s equation with her stepsisters or even in giving them many opportunities to share the frame. The visual framing of the central romance, between Cinderella and her prince (Nicolas Galitzine), all close-ups of lips quivering, red-rimmed eyes and soft lighting, can’t compensate for its lack of depth. They decide they’re in love after having known each other for a day and that’s that. Even the kingdom’s queen (Minnie Driver, playing a wife finding renewed security in her marriage for a second time this year after her superb Modern Love short) gets saddled with trite, tired observations about romance.
Just as every new situation in the film is an excuse for the characters to break into song, every question is an opportunity to deliver a sermon. When one of Cinderella’s stepsisters asks her if she looks pretty, she replies, “Who cares what I think? Who cares what anyone thinks? What matters is how you feel when you look in the mirror.’ To which her sister replies, ‘Deep.” Deep, this movie is decidedly not. It’s ultimately as frothy and gossamer thin as one of Cinderella’s creations.