Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Princess Diaries


I have exciting news to report. Madame Rose, my publicist, has arranged for the entire country to get a sneak preview of my exciting new Broadway Production, The Girl from Oz. We're going to do one of the big production numbers as an entertainment for the Republican convention when it's in New York later this week. I'm sure that this will give us a big boost in visibility and ticket sales, which I must admit have been a bit slower than I had expected for a show with a star of my magnitude. I've been reading over the Republican party platform and I'm sure they'll just be wild about me as I am, after all, one of the celebrities around whom the term 'family entertainment' was originally coined. While I generally avoid overt partisan politics, the offer from the Republican National Committee was simply too good to pass up and I am dying for an invitation to the next state dinner.

I think we're going to do the 'Let's Get Physical' number from the second act. After all, it was one of Olivia Newton-John's greatest hits and spent more weeks at number one in the 1980s than any other record. I've always found it best to stick to the familiar when playing for a new type of audience. Besides which, I look simply stunning in the sequined aerobics outfit. I lead the chorus girls in a marvelous dance number based on Jane Fonda work-out videos while, in the back, the chorus boys are enacting a race riot at the Oswald Penitentiary. This makes the number really mean something. Mark Morris, our choreographer, has come up with some absolutely stunning work for the men, based on some photos he saw of something called Aboo Grebe, whatever that may be.

I have been so outlandishly busy, that I simply have not had the time to keep up with my film viewing. I did, however, catch the Garry Marshall film from 2001, The Princess Diaries with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway. This slight confection was an unexpected hit, feeding into the adolescent fantasies of millions of American girls raised on the Disney Princess Collection. I had never seen it, despite the starring performance of my dear friend Julie Andrews, so Normy and I snuggled up together in our suite at the W and gave it a whirl.

Anne Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, a movie ugly duckling who has impossibly bushy eyebrows and coke bottle glasses, despite flawless skin and bone structure, who lives with her free spirit artist mom (Caroline Goodall) in a converted firehouse in San Francisco. She's a normal high schooler with a dweeby, but smart best friend (Heather Matarazzo), a shallow and stuck up high school enemy (Mandy Moore), a boy who moons after her (Robert Schwartzman) and a boy she moons after (Erik Von Detten). One day, her paternal grandmother (Julie Andrews), whom she knows little about, comes waltzing into her life. It turns out that this vague figure is Queen Clarice of Genovia, one of those Ruritanian mittel European kingdoms common in film, but rare in real life. Genovia, which seems to be the size of a postage stamp, exports nothing but pears, and still is able to maintain a San Francisco consulate in an oversize Pacific Heights mansion.  There is, however, a problem. The crown prince, Mia's father, has died and Mia is the only member of the royal Renaldi family left and therefore heir to the throne.

After some not terribly well scripted adolescent angst about why her parentage has been kept secret from her, Mia undergoes My Fair Lady lessons in deportment from grandma (a very elaborate joke considering Andrews' past roles) in order to become her inner royal. Makeovers, a rather disastrous state dinner (echoing a similar dinner scene in Marshall's earlier Pretty Woman complete with the same actor as a waiter uttering the same line 'It happens all the time' after a particularly egregious faux pas), a brush with the paparazzi, and a minor traffic accident ensue as Clarice and Mia grow closer and she makes up her mind as to whether to accept her role as Crown Princess Amelia Renaldi of Genovia. Everything comes together at an embassy ball (more shades of My Fair Lady) where things go not quite the way you would expect but end up happily for all concerned.

Director Marshall is unapologetic in his lifts from his earlier monster hit, Pretty Woman and there are enough parallels for this to be classified, in some ways, as an unofficial remake. Some of the same cast appear (including Hector Elizondo in a very similar wise counselor role) and the transformation of the heroine and the obstacles she faces are almost identical. The major difference comes in the means. Julia Roberts became respectable by learning how to shop. Anne Hathaway becomes respectable by having her eyebrows tweezed and being taught the basics of foundation and mascara. The Cinderella fantasy story has been a staple of world literature for a few thousand years now and it doesn't hurt to have a new and updated version, especially one that has Marshall's gift for putting good comedians in minor roles and then giving them some rein to deliver a wisecrack or two. Canadian comic Sandra Oh, as Mia's principal, gets top honors here.

Gina Wendkos' screenplay is derivative, Marshall's direction is competent, but uninspired. The film is saved by a good cast who are obviously having a fun time with the material. Chief amongst these is Julie Andrews as the Royal matriarch with the urge to occasionally let down her hair. She builds a real woman behind the paint by numbers of the plot and has real chemistry with young Anne Hathaway and Hector Elizondo, where a lovely little autumn romance whispers under the surface. Miss Hathaway, in the central role, goes from perky cute to exquisitely lovely and seems to be very much modern teen. She's fine in this role but it's unclear if she has the abilities to play anything but a girl whose biggest problem is whether her first kiss will make her foot pop.

Normy and I enjoyed the film as a romantic fantasy. It's the perfect thing for an adolescent girl's slumber party and has some of the usual wise teen film life lessons at its heart. By all means see it, just don't expect a great work of art. The new DVD release, a two disc set from Disney, contains the film, a 'making of' documentary, deleted scenes, commentary from director Marshall and stars Andrews and Hathaway. It also has a free pass to the currently playing Princess Diaries 2 for those of you who haven't gotten enough of Genovian royalty.

Fire pole sliding. Balloon painting. High school cable access show. Garage band. Gratuitous debate class vomiting. Reconditioned mustang. Red haired nerd. Balloon painting. Broken statuary. Flying grapes. Mechanical arm wrestling. Foot in fish net. Gratuitous Mandy Moore beach party number. Bedraggled heroine speech. 

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