Friday, March 13, 2015

Cinderella Movie Review

Lily James stars as/in Cinderella

No Fire, Just Cold Ashes
by Susan Barocas (Contributing Editor)

The question is... Did we really need another film version of Cinderella? Sorry, Disney, but no. At least not this one.

The film follows the oft-told fairytale with just a few variations. This includes, more screen time than usual is devoted to the idyllic early years of Cinderella's childhood when life and her parents were just about near-perfect. Of course, we all know what is about to happen; but still, it's a lovely country estate with pretty people, golden light and inspiring musical swells.

Cinderella reminds us to see the world not as it is, but as it could be with a little magic. I wanted to believe, I really did. After all, this is Cinderella in the hands Kenneth Branagh, one of my all-time favorites behind the camera. He's the guy who made us excited to see Shakespeare on screen - from the gritty, action-filled (and sexy) Henry V to a four-hour Hamlet that kept us in its grip, to an infectious romp of Much Ado about Nothing. Branagh made Thor feel more like Shakespeare than comic book and turned Love’s Labour’s Lost into a musical with songs by American theater masters. And just think of the chutzpah and vision it took to film Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute in the trenches of World War I.

Sadly, this film doesn’t have chutzpah or vision, grit or infectious comedy. Believing in a little magic isn't the problem. We could all use some of that in our lives. But believing in long-outdated myths and stereotypes presented as frothy, “unoffensive” entertainment feels more like creating a new revenue stream for corporate Disney than anything close to a memorable film.

Maybe I’m just over the idea of the prettiest girl (Lily James) at the party wearing the prettiest gown and dancing oh-so-fantastically with Mr. Perfect Prince (Richard Madden) who, before the film is over, will rescue our poor girl from her terrible life. As mistreated as she is by her wicked step-mother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), Cinderella never thinks to leave. How could she, when her mother’s dying words were to “have courage and be kind?" And the suffering is worth even more, if it means staying in the home that was so happy when her dear parents were alive.

What are we teaching our children when we take them to see this story, especially young girls who are just learning that they can be pretty and strong? Apparently “have courage and be kind” means never having to stick up for yourself or make hard choices or dig deep to find your inner strength and ability to be independent. It means saying sometimes it’s okay to be mistreated. Even Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) wonders in an easily-missed passing comment why the girl never left.

Am I just being cranky? After all, some of the film is fun. Bonham Carter, who once dated Branagh for six years, gives her Fairy Godmother a bit of her special zaniness, as well as a smart edge. The best visual effects of the film come with the sweep of her magic wand when a pumpkin becomes a coach, the goose turns into the driver and two lizards into coachmen while Cinderella’s dearest, most loyal friends - four chattering mice - become strong, white stallions. As the clock strikes midnight, the turn back to their natural states is just as visually entertaining.

Blanchett clearly enjoyed getting in touch with her evil side, vamping more like a 1930s film noir character but in richly dark, fitted clothes in black, gold, dark blues and greens. By contrast, her two witless daughters (Sophie McShera as Drizella and Holiday Grainger as Anastasia) are outfitted in coordinated, gaudily-colored and overdone outfits.

I can’t help but think about the Cinderella story woven into the recent film version of Into the Woods. That re-telling offered us some real laughs and unexpected, thoughtful twists on the fairy tale. Even with all the attempts at sweeping grandeur, this Cinderella is closer to the original 1950 animated film, from the two animated bluebirds that appear at the beginning and end of both versions to the unadulterated, outdated messages.

Please go back to Shakespeare, Mr. Branagh, where those characters created in the 16th century feel more relevant to our life today. They certainly light more of a fire in us than Cinderella.