A group of men in plaid shirts and hipster glasses is sitting in a dark room with blinds down, a whiteboard scratched from top to bottom. Hundreds of writings and rewrites. The budget — so abundant, the ideas less so.
They're sweating, chewing on drugstore pens. They look at one another, full of despair and worn-out passion. There must be at least ten people in this room at their wits' end, some of them crunching on the floor, their brains exhausted.
Netflix is green-lighting everything that has the headline 'script' on it. Hulu has that weird handmaidens show as their flagship success. Apple is breaking onto the scene with an acclaimed, heartfelt Ted Lasso. No one cares about Peacock.
They need something. Fast.
Then, one of them, a hero rising from the ashes, throws the blue drugstore pen at the board, breaking the silence.
“Screw it! Let's make another Cinderella!”
No? That wasn't how it hap- Are you sure? I'm pretty sure that's how it happened.
One might ask why Cinderella gets so many retellings. What is so popular about this particular princess that she should get so much attention from Hollywood, marking the Amazon Studios Cinderella (2021) version no. 5849?
Doesn't she conform to the same princess trends as all her Disney counterparts? Isn't she motherless? Orphaned? In unfortunate circumstances? Check, check, and check. And yet, no one gets more remakes than this midnight runner.
Maybe because Cinderella is perhaps the most relatable and most straightforward to re-imagine in various scenarios in terms of audience appeal.
The tale of a victim trying to escape an abusive household rings true for most of us.
We've all had or will have some sort of toxic relationship going on in our lives. The idea that someone with a magic wand swoops in and saves us gives relief and hope that Snow White, with her dwarves and poisoned apples, just doesn't.
The Cinderella story has been around for literally thousands of years. Countless variations across cultures and time, the classic rags-to-riches story. The first recorded version of Cinderella comes from the Greek cartographer Rhodopis, about a Greek slave girl who marries the Prince of Egypt.
But alas, western civilization is mainly acquainted with Charles Perrault's French version called The Little Glass Slipper from the seventeenth century. Perrault added and therefore solidified the Fairy Godmother element, the glass shoe being lost and the prince being a moron.
(He means well, guys, it's not his fault he's slow.)
Let me preface by saying — I don't understand what we were expecting, exactly. It's Cinderella. There's going to be a girl with a cruel stepmother and two slightly disturbed stepsisters.
There's going to be a dumb lovable prince who rebels against the institution. There's going to be some sort of magical ex-Machina to aid our heroine in time of need. There's going to be a glass slipper and a midnight marathon against the clock and talking animal friendos.
Don't expect character development or logic. It's supposed to be an escape, not a Hitchcock master's class on film-making. In that capacity, Camila Cinderella succeeds.
The Cinderella Trope
Staging Cinderella as a comedy benefits the story far better than the Brothers Grimm gritty horror show. I liked Andy Tenant's 1998 Ever After re-telling. It was clever and empowering, but the magical escapism was undercut by inserting Cinderella into a reality-based kingdom of France.
We could discuss the many versions for hours on end; the point is — it's hardly going to be a cinematic masterpiece. It was already old back in the 50s when Disney did the boring animated version.
The only creative re-imagining of Cinderella I've seen was the SNL skit about Disney Housewives. The iconic Kristen Wiig portrays Cinderella as a raging alcoholic in a marriage falling apart because the Prince is a little too interested in fashion.
“Never marry a guy who's really into shoes.”
What a queen. Literally.
Other than that, I don't think there will ever be a Cinderella story pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones. It's a trope. People expect tropes; they expect familiarity. We say we want new, original concepts, but that's most often BS because, time and time again, the Disney live remakes make more than a billion dollars at the box office on a regular Tuesday.
And they will never erase the crucial elements to the story by having her not end up with the Prince, no matter how much they advocate for the “feminist” agenda. (It's not a crime against feminism to be in love, by the way. That's not what feminism is. But we'll get to that later.)
And yes, even this Cinderella with Camila Cabello as our leading lady was the most streamed movie on Labor Day weekend, thus confirming my point about the nostalgia mentioned earlier. Amazon was shoving it down our throats harder than my mother did the chicken schnitzel every Christmas dinner, and it paid off pretty well for them.
I'm still not sure whether my digestive system processed it, but let's try and find out.
Does Anyone Even Understand What Feminism Is?
Right off the bat, the sell was pretty stupid. The downfall of the movie in the eyes of the critics was already predetermined by false advertising.
A modern re-telling of a classic fairytale.
Neither modern nor re-telling. The modern re-telling was Hillary Duff's version from 2004, Selena Gomez's version from 2008, and Laura Marano's from 2019. (Bet you didn't know about the last one, did you?)
Amazon Studios' Cinderella should have been marketed as a musical comedy because that's precisely what it is. The notion that Cinderella is a feminist with an agenda is no groundbreaking concept; Ella Enchanted did that too in 2004 — also a comedy that works well within its world-building.
Watching the trailer a month ago, my first thought was: I was curious whether Camila Cinderella would choose love or career.
In fact, that's the notion I was pondering when I pressed play - that was marketed - a modern commentary on how women are pushed to pick one or the other and how the public demonizes them for it.
Either we choose love and are branded as weak housewives, or we choose a career and wear a frigid scarlet letter for the rest of our lives.
For that reason, and because I was still salty about La La Land (2016) literally perpetuating the no-compromise rendering between love and career, I prayed they were going to correct the previous industry wrongdoings.
But alas, they didn't. The primary storyline revolves around Cinderella being a fashion designer and not being able to sell her dresses because everyone in the kingdom is sexist, including women. Females can't own businesses.
I mean, sure. That might as well happen.
But the feminist propaganda falls apart at the seams of the conflict.
There is definitely a solid arrow pointing at the fact that economic emancipation has a lot to do with the choices humans, not just women, make in life. (I mean, it comes from Amazon, did you expect anything else than capitalist messaging?)
But it works very well in that aspect. I'm sold on the fact that the reason Cinderella couldn't really do diddly-squat with her life was that her idiot merchant father didn't leave her a trust fund of some sort in case he kicked the bucket, which he did.
So it wasn't the Prince coming to her rescue as much as it was his checking account and his sweet crib.
She finally had somewhere else to go. Above love, above magic, Cinderella is a story about a victim of abuse trying to escape. I don't remember her ever asking for a prince, do you?
I remember her asking for a night off and a beautiful dress. The dude just showed up on her journey to liberation. Prince coming to the rescue is a product of Cinderella's era, not her passiveness.
I've heard many people comment on it, but what the hell do you want her to do? Go live under a bridge? The girl has no dollars to her name to pull herself out of the drain. Moreover, it's her house that the stepmother and the sisters moved into, so why should she leave?
Her financial standing (apart from the glaring fact that it's her father who's the real passive, whipped fool who didn't see what a monster he married) is the root of her problem, so the focus on this is that she isn't given a chance to work but relentlessly tries to anyway. It makes sense and fills in the gap for those who claim that she was a languid heroine.
The set-up of many social subjects in the movie is well-thought-out, but the payoff is never there.
If we go with the feminist messaging, we can't create our own version of feminism or turn it off when the plot requires it, can we, Amazon?
Feminism, by definition, means gender equality. Equal treatment, equal opportunity, equal pay, equality across the board regardless of gender. If the poster message is that Cinderella shouldn't sacrifice her aspirations to be a well-paid dressmaker for the sake of her Prince taking the crown, then we can't have the Prince sacrificing his aspirations to be king for her, either.
It's conflicting, primarily since the Prince isn't written as dismissive or disinterested in the crown. And the problem doesn't end there. In the pursuit of erasing the Prince's importance to save her, they accidentally have him save her several times.
First, she's ridiculed in the market square for trying to sell her dress. Guess who randomly pops in and buys the dress. Guess who invites her to the ball where she meets her future employer, a ball she had no intention of going to.
And at the end, when she escapes from the stepmother and runs to a business meeting, you're rooting for her to finally achieve something by herself. But nope, she both literally and figuratively trips over her own feet. Guess who has to horse-Uber her because homegirl is running late.
Sis, get a grip.
The film was written and directed by Kay Cannon of Pitch Perfect fame, a director who literally broke through the glass with her talent and critically, economically, and artistically succeeded in the business — you'd think she'd understand how to craft a script about a girl trying to do the same thing.
Ah, movie. Why is you do be like that. Stop shooting yourself in the foot, you had a good thing going on.
Cinderella Suffers From Jughead Syndrome
If you haven't noticed, Camila Cinderella is weird. She's a weirdo. She doesn't fit in, and she doesn't want to fit in. Have you ever seen her without that stupid braided ponytail? That's weird.
I don't know how they managed to make her unlikeable, but the girl who's supposed to be empowered by the strength of her character and determination to persevere by the sheer force of will ends up being portrayed as a massive jerk.
She climbs foreign property, imposes her unsolicited opinions on everybody, literally takes advantage of a dude who loves her to move up the corporate ladder, and then shatters his heart when she doesn't need him anymore.
You do know that it's possible to write about independent women without making them look like psychos, right, movie?
The letdown once again lies in the execution. The idea (somewhat innovative for the Cinderella story) of having the prince fall in love with her because she's a local weirdo, moreover in a public setting instead of the usual random meeting in the woods, is appealing. Cinderella is written as your typical angel in human form.
Women are not allowed to show any other emotion besides kindness; otherwise, we're immediately labeled as defensive; hence all the princesses are your picture-perfect women without flaws.
Seeing a Cinderella who's a bit rude and rough around the edges, not the groomed lady but the village crazy lady, is refreshing. But they immediately undo it on several accounts.
For one, there is a difference between being honest and being a jerk. And two, we need to feel sympathetic for her to get the satisfaction when she no longer has to suffer at the hands of her step-family.
Camila Cinderella has her cute basement sanctuary, her step-family lets her be for the most part, and she rarely faces adversity. If she does, she's immediately saved by either magic, her British comedian mice friends, or Prince Robert.
I never even saw her work on the property — she carried a basket with dirty laundry once and served tea, but that's it. I did that too when I lived with my parents.
Does that mean I was abused? From what I've noticed, Prince Robert is the one living in an abusive household.
Poor guy can't catch a break from his father ripping into him. He just wants to hang out with his boy band and sing with his personal Glee church choir. Was that the modern re-telling part they were talking about, and we missed it? Cinderella and Prince switching their respective roles?
Just Do it, a Love letter from a Writer
Unfortunately, like many artistic projects these days, the storytellers are beating us over the head with dialogue instead of incorporating action. And a contradicting dialogue at that.
They tell us that Cinderella lives with a disdainful family, but that's not what we see. She's not even dirty; she's perfectly clean and model-looking throughout the film. Hollywood's idea of a woman hard at work is to give her a messy ponytail.
The Prince isn't exempt from this either. We're told that he's unfit to rule, that he spends his days hunting and drinking, that he's lazy and shallow, the local theater company puts on a play about him called “The King's Idiot Son.”
But then we have him standing up to his father, effortlessly showing courage, fighting him on the matter of marrying for love and not advantage, displaying moral compass and emotional maturity, going to town dressed as a commoner, having an open mind when talked to about the unfairness of the system, buying a random girl's dress for his little sister, acknowledging said little sister publicly as “truly special” when literally everyone else cruelly ignores her, and ultimately giving up his dream to be king for a girl who's just not that into him.
I'm telling you guys, they accidentally had Cinderella and the Prince switch their cannon personalities.
New Kids on the block
So, is there anything remotely original? Well, the Prince has Greta Thunberg as a sister. The stepmother isn't evil, just a pragmatic realist. The stepsisters actually feel bad for Camila Cinderella.
What else? The Prince is really into music, he even has his post-Zayn boy band to back him up. Since he decided to give up the crown and travel the world with Camila Cinderella, he might as well make it a world tour and sing about what makes her beautiful to pass the time, I guess.
The supporting characters are terribly underdeveloped, although it's not for lack of initial creativity. Like everything else in the film, we start with an exciting concept but never make the final stroke of a colorful brush, the finishing touch to give the audience the satisfaction they crave.
Princess Greta Thunberg is labeled the people's princess, but we never see her socialize with the people apart from a quick stroll in the market during a music montage. She has all these great ideas but always voices them out at the most inconvenient of moments, lecturing instead of discussing, which leads to being perceived as annoying by her family.
She never earns the crown; she never stands up to the king — the queen does when, according to the film's girl boss logic, it was supposed to be the feminist Camila Cinderella shattering the stereotype for the women in the kingdom.
Part of being a feminist is pointing out if one sees inequality and fighting for a positive change for everyone, not just oneself. But as stated previously, Camila Cinderella is too self-centered to lead by example, or God Forbid, to be a role model.
The perfect compromise we were looking for — having her become queen, thus accepting love in her life and changing the law, empowering women, and opening up her dress shop along with it — never happened.
Instead, Camila Cinderella Prince Harry-ed Robert into leaving his family and giving up the title, so they could escape the oppressive kingdom. Suck it, everyone else who's still oppressed; let's just hope that Princess Greta will save us from sexism despite never showing the morale and the strength of character to do so.
Oh, damn, did I just figure it out? Was this the unofficial Harry and Meghan escape from the UK documentary? I mean, Camila Cinderella is a woman of color with an American accent, and everyone else in the kingdom sounds British as hell, so maybe we stumbled upon something here.
Let's get to what actually works exceptionally well — music. If you've by any chance read my other reviews, I talk about movie musicals often being a disaster. Camila Cinderella isn´t the case. Obviously, as evidenced by the Pitch Perfect movies, the director is closely familiar with the musical genre.
Through hyper-stylization, fun editing, and taking inspiration from jukebox musicals like Moulin Rouge, she nailed the tonality and personality of the film. The camera work is consistent, the angles are interesting, the quick pacing shows off the performing talent in the movie — it's good.
The absolute highlight is the Whatta Man/Seven Nation Army mash-up, with befitting choreography and classical cello arrangements. I mean, was my 90s/2000s heart the only one leaping out of my chest when it heard the underground classic Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes?
Yes? Well, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and The White Stripes were one of the best genre-specific, non-mainstream music we had fifteen years ago.
Does it bother me that the movie uses 90% of the covers? Not really. Except for calculating how much they had to pay to license songs like Rhythm Nation, Somebody To Love, or Perfect, it didn't pull me out of the story.
(But let's be honest, Amazon can buy the entire world five times over at this point, so, go figure.)
The use of modern music is cleverly incorporated, often instrumentally reworked to fit the classically-trained singers like Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Minnie Driver, and Nicholas Galitzine.
The only fist to the eye is our leading lady, who's a pop singer. Camila can sing within her range pretty well, but her voice compared to Broadway queen Idina Menzel often seemed jarring. She was doing her ad-lib runs, you know, business as usual, and unfortunately, it sounded unnatural. Especially in a song like Am I Wrong by the Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz, where the voices of the cast blend in beautifully. Everyone's technique is glaringly similar, and then we have Camila over-powering with her nasal crescendo.
But her acting performance was pretty solid. To my knowledge, this was her acting debut. For a beginner, she did a good job.
“Floral for spring? How groundbreaking.”
Commenting on costumes is not my usual forte, but I have many thoughts on this one, so bear with me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impeccable fashion-loving eye spotted topical designs. I think they were going for French couture, high fashion stylization - the kind of clothes you see on the runway but never on a real person in real life.
Thematically, it's all over the place.
Take modern music in a historical setting — check. The contemporary dialogue in a historical setting — check. And then the fashion that works on paper, the Vogue runway modernization, falls flatter than a Panini bread when brought to life.
Once again (I'm getting tired of this running thread), stomped to death by not thinking a good idea all the way through.
There are only two people tonally, thematically, and personality-wise consistent with their costuming — Vivian, Cinderella's stepmother, and Prince Robert, Cinderella's purse holder and occasional Horse-Uber driver.
Vivian's A-cut flow skirts and floral patterns, the belts and puffy sleeves combined with gorgeous cyclamen and black colors look great and fit her personality — a bit dark with an occasional light breaking through.
The Prince is always dressed in dark colors — black silk with minimalist regal patterns like the Damask flower, the lion crown, or the ornamental velvet blue flower. He stands out in his environment, surrounded by royal lavishness and extravaganza, as not wanting to draw attention to himself, a metaphor for lying low and being humble.
Why doesn't Camila Cinderella stand out in her environment? Our girl boss is always dressed in white, which works if they were going to juxtapose her to the Prince and their different backgrounds — but she still needs to turn heads on her own.
And since she doesn't, it's kind of an ample, glaring red light in a movie where the female lead is supposed to have a top-notch taste for fashion. It's literally what she does. Ellen Mirojnick, who worked on Roger and Hammerstein's 1997 Cinderella (tired of the callbacks yet? Hollywood indeed isn't), is a superbly talented artist.
So, can anyone explain to me why Camila Cinderella is wearing forgettable clothes and designing high couture fashion that looks terrible? Even her sisters' costumes pay homage to the original Disney Cinderella with huge skirts and pink for Anastasia/green for Drizella callback, because that makes sense for their over-the-top-ness.
Suppose we want to be thorough and play into Camila Cinderella being a weirdo. Why not have her sew and wear the clothes she's designing? It would befit her character if she strolled around town wearing her ridiculous designs, but that's not what's happening here.
And the offense punishable by being disinvited from the MET Gala forever (Although, is that really a punishment after what we've seen this year?) was the ball.
Oh, the ball.
Sweet Cracker Jesus.
As I'm sure you know, the dress reveal is the most emblematic moment of many fairytales, but Cinderella especially. It's literally her time to shine, to ditch the cinder-covered rags, to have her inside beauty match the outside.
The dress, along with her iconic glass shoes, is a huge deal.
Incorporating various cultures into the running thread of the gowns is actually a great idea. We have a princess with a nod to an Indian sari and a spiked crown headband, and the queen from the Caribbean with a Luau headpiece.
The expressiveness is on display. The issue here is that the more creative you get with the gowns, the more challenging it is for Cinderella to upstage them. And she has to upstage them. That's the whole point of the ball, the mysterious princess who bewitched the Prince and had the entire kingdom talking.
Camila Cinderella's dress doesn't completely miss the mark, but neither surprises nor delights. Her dress is different but not magnificent or head-turning. And the painstakingly apparent reason is the asymmetric silhouette. It speaks volumes about Camila's beauty that she pulled it off, but it's not quite enough.
The cherry tree floral doesn't play into anything. It's disbursed on the back of her dress in one place instead of systematically sown into a pattern, and the skirt doesn't flow, thus it doesn't dance elegantly with her as she's moving.
Moreover, her hair looks like someone gave up on it halfway through. Did Amazon forget to pay the hairdresser? Has the hairdresser joined a Union, and Amazon fired him for it in the middle of styling Camila's hair?
Someone, please comb this girl's hair.
She's supposed to have it fully down if we want to show her free-thinking spirit and wild nature. They fix it for the final number, giving her a cocktail dress with a tutu skirt and letting her hair down with beautiful flowers braided into her curls, but it's too little, too late. The ball is the main event, movie. You blew it.
Was This Necessary?
Debatable. We need more joy in our lives, that's for sure. A little extra fun comedy with talents like Minnie Driver or Idina Menzel thrown into the mix can't hurt. I often say that I can forgive a lot when having fun, and I had a lot of fun watching this. The comedy jellies well; the music is fun, the performances are fresh.
Yeah, I'm not ashamed to admit that after a year spent in isolation and ripped sweatpants, I want to see attractive people doing whatever it is that attractive people do in the movies to make us spend the coin.
I'd say you might enjoy it; it's not a smudged eyeshadow as much as it is an eyeliner without wings. It doesn't look too off, but how much more amazing could it have been if someone had finished drawing the wing?