How does one approach a tale that has been told repeatedly over
the years in numerous forms? That was the challenge facing writer-director
Andy Tennant (and co-screenwriters Susannah Grant and Rick Parks). The
Cinderella story reportedly exists in over 500 versions and has been the
basis for numerous features from Disney's 1950 animated version to the
1954 MGM semi-musical THE GLASS SLIPPER to a more modern spin in
the Ally Sheedy vehicle MAID TO ORDER in 1987. Borrowing heavily from
such diverse pop culture sources as PRETTY WOMAN and Disney's animated
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the trio of screenwriters fashioned a feminist
take on the fairy tale.
Told as a story within a story, EVER AFTER opens with the arrival of
the Brothers Grimm at court where they are greeted by the Grande Dame
(a lovely cameo from the ageless Jeanne Moreau). She in turn tells
the Grimms the "real" story behind the legend. Set in the 16th Century,
this version of Cinderella has a spirited young woman at its center.
Like Belle in the animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, she is both bookish
and devoted to her father (Jeroen Krabbe). When he brings home a new
mother and two stepsisters, the young girl is excited, but tragedy soon
strikes. Her father suffers a heart attack and dies and Danielle (Drew
Barrymore) is left to function as little more than a servant to her
imperious stepmother (a wonderful Anjelica Huston) and step-siblings
(newcomer Megan Dodds as the blonde and beautiful but haughty
Marguerite and HEAVENLY CREATURES co-star Melanie Lynskey as
the plainer, good-hearted Jacqueline). Tennant intercuts scenes of the
court where the rebellious Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) sneaks away
from his parents (Timothy West and Judy Parfitt). Henry steals one of
the horses at Danielle's homestead and she beans him with an apple,
not realizing who he is. (This is the "meet cute" scene.)
He pays her for the horse and she in turn disguises herself as a
courtier and uses the money to buy back a valued servant her stepmother
has sold to pay off debts. At the palace in her guise as a noblewoman,
Danielle crosses paths with the Prince and they engage in a verbal
exchange. Each is clearly smitten although in true style neither wants
to admit it. With the groundwork laid, the film kicks in.
There's much to admire here. The French locations are glorious
(although Tennant does tend to rely on overhead shots a lot) and the
costumes by Oscar winner Jenny Beavan are appropriately lavish. The
writers take pains to ground their story in reality, so while there are
mirrored slippers, there is no fairy godmother (although Leonardo
Da Vinci who has been appointed court painter serves that function) nor
any magic. (Nor pumpkin turned into a carriage and mice turned into
steeds). There is a magnificently stage masked ball, where the Prince
learns that Danielle isn't the noblewoman he thought she was and,
of course, the standard happy ending.
The performances anchor the film, although one could quibble that
while the story is set in France, nearly everyone speaks with a British
accent. Drew Barrymore continues to re-invent herself as a gifted
actress. The wild girl roles of the past have given way to a maturity.
She is a charming and utterly believable heroine, smart, feisty and
certainly not passive. Anjelica Huston clearly relishes playing the nasty
stepmother but the actress is careful to let the audience see the woman
underneath as well. She and Barrymore share a terrific scene of near
intimacy—when the stepmother almost allows Danielle into her life.
Even when pulling back, Huston uses her strong features to register
the pain and regret. Dougray Scott is miles away from his previous role
as the foul-mouthed corrupt cop in TWIN TOWN. Here he cuts a
dashing figure, offering a nuanced look at the man-child literally
growing up before our eyes. As his bickering parents, Timothy West
and the always terrific Judy Parfitt are nonpareil. Only Richard O'Brien
(yes, Riff Raff from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) succumbs
to cliché as the black-garbed villain.
Even though one knows the ending going in, EVER AFTER offers
enough twists to keep audiences entertained. Tennant and company
have given young girls a modern-day Cinderella who is more proactive
than usual. Older audience members can coddle their inner child and
enjoy the film as a terrific "date movie".
Running time: 121 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG for brief language and mild thematic elements
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.