VOD film review: Cinderella (2021)
Ivan Radford | On 04, Sep 2021
Director: Kay Cannon
Cast: Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Minnie Driver, Pierce Brosnan, Nicholas Galitzine
Where to watch Cinderella online in the UK:
Cinderella, but make it Girlboss. That, to some degree, is the starting point for Kay Cannon’s new take on the classic tale, picked up by Amazon Prime Video from Sony Pictures earlier this year. The film takes the soot-covered young woman from your childhood memories and turns her from a put-upon cleaner into an aspiring fashioner designer. Here, Cinderella (Camila Cabello) doesn’t gaze out the window dreaming of Prince Charming: she wants to provide for herself with a career of her own making, and if a ball should come along, well that’s all the better for advertising her dresses with.
It’s an empowering spin on the story, which struggled to find modern resonance with Disney’s live-action remake in 2015, and Cannon, who also wrote Pitch Perfect and Blockers, finds some genuine nuance in its balance between candy-coloured fairytale and capitalism. Her stepmother, Vivian (Idina Menzel), isn’t evil but has learnt from her life experiences that the way to succeed is to marry up, not climb the ladder yourself. As for Prince Charming (Nicholas Galitzine), he’s no knight in shining armour but an immature oaf whose sister, Princess Gwen (Tallulah Grieve), is a better fit for the throne, with plans for social equality.
All this is welcome and worthwhile including, but the problems come when the film also wants to be a musical as well as modern. Almost every decision here doesn’t work. There’s nothing wrong with the cast’s abilities or performances – Camila Cabello is a likeable screen presence with easygoing comic timing – but the film immediately announces its intentions with a jukebox approach that struggles to make any sense. Where films such as Moulin Rouge! succeed in mixing together familiar pop classics with a certain amount of logic, Cinderella’s choice of songs (Rhythm Nation, You Gotta Be, Whatta Man and more) jar with the characters and narrative and feel like they’re included without thought or care. It’s telling that the numbers that do work are Cabello’s own Million to One and Vivian’s showstopper that’s co-written by Menzel.
The rest of the cast do their best: James Acaster, Romesh Ranganathan and James Corden balance each other out as the mice footmen, and Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan are clearly having a ball as the kingdom’s rulers – Driver playing a long-suffering queen and Brosnan sending himself up as an insecure king who knows he can’t sing. Nicholas Galitzine, who impressed in the indie flick The Beat Beneath My Feet, once again demonstrates his singing chops, and leans into Charming’s cluelessness with aplomb.
But the script struggles to give them material that clicks – you wish that Ben Bailey Smith’s town crier got the chance to write his own exposition-spouting lyrics, while the fabulous Billy Porter is painfully wasted as a fairy godmother-type, Fab G, whose dialogue sounds painfully forced. As for our hero, there’s no sign of the “cinders” that inspire her nickname, and her sisters Anastasia (Maddie Baillio) and Drizella (Charlotte Spencer) are written so two-dimensionally they might as well be props in the background.
The result stumbles awkwardly when it should harmoniously chime together – one gag involving a choir in the throne room is a neat concept that’s underused, while other scenes are derailed by the inexplicable decision to deploy autotune or some occasionally incoherent visuals. This ambitious take on Cinderella has nice ideas but, by the time the runtime hits the halfway point, it’s already turned into a pumpkin.
Cinderella (2021) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.