Ever After

          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
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
  to cliché as the black-garbed villain.

          Even though one knows the ending going in,
  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".

Rating:                   B+
Running time:         121 mins.
MPAA Rating:         PG for brief language and mild thematic elements

© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.