Magical fairy tale is given twist with a delightful cast
Ever After: A Cinderella Story
Okay... I'm a sucker for fairy tales. I love 'em. People say that Shakespeare can be adapted to fit any setting (although Romeo + Juliet proved otherwise), but fairy tales are more accessible to audiences of today. Just hearing them would invoke the wild imagination of your mind and you would create your own version of the story. So film is a great medium to retell these immortal tales. Take the recent Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Retold with a dark side, it improves on the Disney animated film and, in my opinion, is the best telling of that fairy tale on celluloid.
So you can imagine the joy and excitement I had when I heard that a new rendition of the Cinderella tale was being made. And if that wasn't enough, they managed to land one of the best romantic actresses in Hollywood: Drew Barrymore. The news just kept getting better and better. Angelica Huston, Melanie Lynskey, Richard O'Brien, and director Andy Tennant. So I guess you could say my expectations were set at quite a high standard. Of course, this being the summer of 1998, a summer that has proven to be probably the best in terms of quality on record, expectations have been met and surpassed. And EVER AFTER is no exception.
EVER AFTER begins sometime in the 16th Century with the Grande Dame (Jeanne Moreau) telling a story of the little Cinder girl to the Grimm brothers. The film jumps back to the beginning of the 16th Century and the main story begins to unfold. Danielle (Anna Maguire) is only 8 years old and she is ecstatic that both her father and new stepmother are arriving together. Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) has two young daughters, but as Danielle's father rides away, he has a heart attack and dies. Ten years pass, and Danielle (now played by Drew Barrymore) is now being controlled by her stepmother as an indentured servant. She sleeps in the grungy attic, and performs her daily duties with precision. One day, she catches a man riding through her yard. Believing he's a thief, she hits him with an apple and knocks him off his horse. He turns out to be Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), and she bows in disbelief and regret. He informs her that she should forget it ever happened, and gives her a handful of money.
Believing she can rescue a servant (and husband of another servant in the house) from being shipped to America, she dresses up in fancy clothes and heads off to the court. There, she gets her friend released, meets Prince Henry again, and tells a few lies in order to save herself from trouble. Spouting lines from "Utopia" by Sir Thomas More, she beguiles the Prince into thinking she's royalty herself. Prince Henry, meanwhile, is stuck in an arranged marriage that he wants to escape from. His bride-to-be isn't exactly thrilled herself. Henry climbs out windows just to get a moment to himself. But after meeting Danielle, he suddenly can't get enough. The rest of the story revolves around many different moments when Danielle is almost revealed as a commoner and as the two speak in philosophical terms. Of course, all of this is never dull, surprisingly enough.
The final hour of the plot begins to grow old as the mistaken identities and close-calls begin to wear themselves out. The dialogue begins to lose it's originality as well. Thankfully, the screenwriters know just when to finish the film out. Going into the movie, I was worried that the movie wouldn't have a happy ending because the title reads "Ever After." The line usually goes, "Happily Ever After," so I didn't know exactly how it would end. Let's just say that this ain't no Titanic. It's a quirky, modern update to the famous fairy tale. And surprisingly enough, a lot of humor is added that I didn't expect. It's a very funny film that can be enjoyed by those looking for a comedy. If you liked The Mask of Zorro, you'll more than likely like this film.
Of course, fairy tale seems incorrect as well. Instead, it's more of a period piece that uses the plot for "Cinderella" as a centerpiece. The story is similar in ways, but in others it is different. Instead of having Cinderella meet the Prince during the ball, they meet consecutively over the entire film. By doing so, the writers are able to keep things new and fresh. Instead of everything seeming predictable, it's fun to watch. Will the end remain the same, or will they change it? It's not as clear-cut as you might think. As a new version of the fairy tale, this one succeeds brilliantly.
What helps, of course, are the actors. Drew Barrymore hasn't had a very glamorous career, going from E.T. to Firestarter and then to her teenage years where she got into drugs. Thankfully, she pulled herself out, and the pleasure is all ours. I, for one, didn't know she was a good actress. After seeing The Wedding Singer, my thoughts began to change. With this one, she solidifies her comeback with a touching and moving performance. It's easy to care for her because Barrymore has this child-like appearance that contains all the elements we'd like from a heroine. Of course, being the nineties, the writers threw in some feminist ideals which more than likely weren't around back then. But it's no matter... it blends in seamlessly. Barrymore is back, and she is one of today's best romantic actresses.
Much has been made of Dougray Scott's performance. Many people thinks he was miscast, while others think he's perfect. I tend to agree with the latter. Scott isn't as pompous as some heroic figures of this sort might appear, but he also isn't oblivious to the rules of the period. He knows men should behave a certain way, but at times, he turns into a child again, as if he never had a childhood to experience. He is very good matched up with Barrymore. The chemistry is real and almost palpable. As for Anjelica Huston, what can you say? She's almost always good, and here she turns in one of the best performances as the evil stepmother. Instead of seeming evil, she merely wants what's best for her daughters, even if that includes pushing other out of her way. By the end of the film, I liked the character and felt sorry for her. But that's only because it was a very lifelike figure. Had she been a caricature of one, I would have felt no sympathy whatsoever. Megan Dodds is the snobby sister with the golden hair and good looks. Melanie Lynskey (Kate Winslet's friend in Heavenly Creatures) has a more complicated role as the sister who doesn't seem to belong. Dodds does a great job of making you hate her, and that's the intent of the film. When Barrymore punches her in the face, the theater literally broke out in cheers and applause. And of course Richard O'Brien and Patrick Godfrey. O'Brien is best known for Rocky Horror, but he was recently seen in the great sci-fi film Dark City. Here, he turns in a deliciously vile performance that seems like several of his scenes were cut out. Godfrey is superb as Leonardo da Vinci, and the performance must be seen to be explained. It's very fun to watch him walk on water.
Director Andy Tennant (who also helped write the film) was selected by Barrymore herself. She wanted a good period-piece director, and judging from his work here, he is terrific. He did Fools Rush In as well, but that wasn't nearly as good as this. Here, everything falls into place nicely. The cinematography is well done, and the music is non-intrusive (thankfully, they didn't use "The Mummer's Dance" which would have seemed too modern and broken the fantasy). But most impressive is the costume and set design. The sets are real places, and that allows a more realistic feel. As for the costumes, look for it to get an Academy Award nomination. They are just spectacular. Technically, this is a very good movie.
EVER AFTER is rated PG and it's not hard to understand why. There is only one use of blatant profanity, and the violence is kept to a minimum. The opinion of the audience was very high, many calling the film "very funny and cute." As for my own opinion, I think the film is well made and very entertaining. This summer has been full of surprises, and if it keeps up, I'm sure it will be a record in quality and box office receipts.
***1/2 out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie