Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement


I received a rather interesting call this morning from Buckingham Palace. The House of Windsor is going through one of its periodic updates of the monarchy and have decided that the old dear, Elizabeth, is in need of a new look. They’ve asked me to get together with my designers at VickiWear to come up with some sketches to help them launch her well into the new century. I wasted no time in ringing up my old confidant, Bob Mackie, and asked him to get the best minds at VickiWear together for an immediate pow-wow on the subject. It would bring a much needed lift of visibility to the company; while sales remain respectable, we’re having difficulty moving beyond Pic-and-Save. K-Mart remains committed to Martha Stewart and Isaac Mizrahi undercut me at Target. 

For those who don’t remember, VickiWear is my personal imprint of fine fashion clothing for the bargain conscious shopper. It provides all the style of my haute-couture GlamourPuss gowns with a drip-dry, ready to wear sensibility that allows every woman to look like a movie star for as low as $19.95. The various collections have taken their cues from famous stage shows of the past; the South Pacific grass skirts with soldiers’ khakis were an enormous hit a few seasons back but we’re had less luck in recent years with collections based on Equus and Blackbirds of 1928. Our latest line, based on La Cage Aux Folles did very well at Halloween, especially in cities with large populations of bachelor gentlemen. I can’t help but think that the Queen must have seen one of these outfits at Ascot or a Buckingham Palace garden party and that’s how I came to her attention. 

Being fairly unfamiliar with modern royalty, I decided to rent a film that might give me some understanding of their current needs and aspirations. Fortunately, the first movie to catch my eye was the recently released Princess Diaries 2 from Garry Marshall. Having thoroughly enjoyed the first one, I decided once again to check up on the doings of the fictional Rinaldi family, hereditary monarchs of the tiny European kingdom of Genovia, home of pear trees and the most peculiarly multi-cultural population on the continent. No two citizens of Genovia seem to speak with the same accent or have the same ethnicity. The original film found us in San Francisco where high school student, Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) suddenly found herself the heir to the throne of Genovia and needing instruction in the deportment of princesses from her firm, but kind grandmother, Queen Clarice (Julie Andrews) in a sort of reverse My Fair Lady fantasy. 

In the sequel, it is five years later. Young Mia has not only completed high-school, but also college, and has come to Genovia in order to take up her duties as heir apparent to the throne. Once there, a problem arises; according to Genovian law, she can only ascend the throne as a married woman and the Genovian parliament, after some Machiavellian maneuvering, announces she has only thirty days in which to marry or she must renounce her claim. This is all put in motion by an evil Viscount (Jonathan Rhys Davies) who seeks the throne for his nephew, Nicholas (Christopher Pine). Mia settles on an arranged marriage with a suitable young man, Andrew, an English Duke (Callum Blue) with a PhD in anthropology and the personality of Spam. It doesn’t take long for her to recognize that she’s really got the hots for Nicholas and anyone who can’t guess where the plot’s going to end up twenty minutes into the film is a few bulbs short of a marquee. Also on hand from the first film are Hector Elizondo as the head of security, and Queen Clarice’s paramour and Heather Mattarazzo as Lily, Mia’s kooky and brainy best friend. 

As this is a post-feminist princess fantasy from Garry Marshall, there’s not a lot of depth in the plotting, characterizations, or themes. Instead, we get a lot of good natured clowning and comic bits as the tired operetta comic plot creaks its way along. These include a pampered French poodle and cat, a pair of maids who do bad vaudeville, a lot of arrows shot in the wrong direction, a Scottish paparazzi tele-journalist, and footmen in purple coats and white breeches who do things like fall down stairs. I cracked a smile a few times, but not much more as little of it is remotely funny. In moving his plot and characters from modern America to an impossible Europe, Marshall has deftly removed what little anchor they had in reality and the result is that we no longer care for these people or their contrived sit-com problems. 

Julie Andrews, as the regal Clarice, is the most watchable element of the film and her scenes with Elizondo have chemistry and the two old pros are almost talented enough to get us to care. It’s too bad all the young people didn’t perish in a fiery car crash in the first reel and let us just have a film about two people with some depth and honor, in love and not sure how to bridge their social class distances. Instead, we have to have mattress surfing at an all princess slumber party and a tiresome bit of nonsense about a wooden leg. Andrews gives us a rare treat by singing in the film. Her throat problems of a few years ago have robbed her of her lustrous upper register and the golden soprano is gone, but she still has flawless diction and her unique way of selling a song, even if it’s a ridiculous trifle about crowning glories, complete with hip-hop dance break. Ann Hathaway remains charming as Mia, despite being given inferior material to work with. She does her best. Heather Mattarazzo remains unique – no one else working in film looks quite like her with her inquisitive chipmunk face. As for the two young men in the central triangle, five minutes after the film was over, I could not have told you who was whom. 

The film may hold the attention of its twelve year old girl with a princess fetish target demographic, but is likely to bore most others. It’s innocuous enough, it’s just that every element in it has been done better many times before by better film makers. Garry Marshall tends to drag everything down to the level of an old episode of Laverne and Shirley and this project is no exception. 

Fantasy closet. Lesbian in fantasy closet. Bronze pear award. Rubber snake. Dancing footmen. Chicken chasing. Gratuitous wooden leg removal. Vine climbing. Foot popping. Gratuitous dancing with pots on heads. Interrupted we

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