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A Modernized Cinderella: Ever After 

Ever After: A Cinderella Story is a revisionist update of the classic Grimm Brothers fairy tale of Cinderella, and is much more interesting and entertaining than it probably would've been otherwise (then again, I haven't actually read the story, or seen the Disney animated version, so what do I know?). Right away, you get the sense that things will be a bit different this time --- the story begins with a meeting between an old woman (the legendary Jeanne Moreau from Jules and Jim, etc) and the Brothers Grimm. She apparently wants to set the brothers straight about the "little cinder girl", and proceeds to tell a tale more rooted in reality (or, at least one without fairy godmothers and pumpkins turning into carriages).

The cinder girl is named Danielle, and, as a youth, finds herself, of course, under the thumb of a wicked stepmother, and irritated by her vain stepsisters. What happened was that Danielle's father married a lady of high esteem, only to drop dead of a heart attack days after returning from the honeymoon. The newly widowed woman (Angelica Huston), being of a high-class mindset, feels resentful for having been abandoned, through the man's death, to this low-class backwater, and so while she props up her own natural daughters to be good ladies, she treats Danielle (now played by Drew Barrymore) as a common slave.... er, I mean commoner. Of course, the fact that, during the father's death scene, he tells the daughter that he loves her and completely ignores the woman doesn't exactly help either.

So now Danielle does all of the servant work in her own house, for ungrateful swine who more or less took over. After the stepmother sends one of the old servants off to jail to work off her.... oops, I mean his debts, Danielle hits upon a scheme to retrieve him. She dresses up as a lady of the court, and actually makes her way to the palace. She meets up with the jailed man, and in the process bumps into the Prince. She makes an impassioned speech (lifted from Thomas More's Utopia) about freedom. The prince is impressed with her passion, and her knowledge of More, that he lets the man free -- but of course the prince is really more fascinated with the girl, and wants to find out more about her, little suspecting that he actually met her earlier, when he stole one of the horse's from her home, and Danielle threw a piece of fruit off his head.

Danielle never expects to see him again, but she soon does....... one day she's swimming in the lake, and freaks out at the sight of a man walking on water. Actually, it's Leonardo De Vinci (!) with one of his contraptions, and the Prince is hanging about on shore. Danielle and the prince get into another argument about class, and it's clear that the two are fascinated with each other: the arguments aren't exactly brutal, it's just that the fact that both of them have actual ideas in their heads makes them able to click with each other.

Circumstances arise, and the stepmother plots to get into the royal family by having one of her daughters try to impress the prince enough to marry her. The prince has his own problems in the family arena, as the French king hopes for him to marry a princess from Spain, thereby sealing a bond between the two countries. The prince protests enough that a deal is made that the prince can find anyone he wants to marry within an allotted time, or else he will have to go through with the arranged marriage. So of course it's a race against time to see who will be the happy bride. And how will the prince handle the truth of Danielle's class, if he ever finds out?

Many of the famous elements of the story are played out in a neat fashion. The motivations of the stepmother make a little more sense, since it is clear there is jealousy and resentment, as well as some good old-fashioned class snobbery. The prince is not some male bimbo or complete snob, but someone who feels as out of place in his position as Danielle does in hers. Also, that glass slipper is crucial in this version as well as in the old, but this time the classic scene of the prince slipping the article onto the woman's foot is a romantic scene, and the dialogue is played ironically (if you have any knowledge of the original). Certainly, such a scene is better than witnessing some stupid prince having to act as a volunteer shoe fitter in order to recognize the woman he supposedly loves!

Drew Barrymore is not exactly my first choice as a lead for a period piece. For one thing, she is too American, and while she does try to act mannerly, she doesn't very much try to cover up her nationality. But then again, this film is meant to appeal to a different demographic than a film from, say, James Ivory. A typical teenager is not going to respond well if a film is something like Howard's End -- most everything in Ever After is basically a slightly more mannered version of a contemporary romance. The players are young and attractive, the motivations are pretty easy to understand, and it's pretty clear who the "good" and "bad" guys are (although I doubt too many teenagers would know of Thomas More's Utopia, which is an important plot device). It doesn't matter too much, though....... Drew will always be Drew, and that's good enough for me. At least, unlike in Charlie's Angels, Drew is in a role of some power. Her character certainly stands up for herself quite well.

It must be said that while, sure, there's lots of talk about position and the struggle of the underprivileged, Ever After is not excatly some radical left-wing film. The film is all about the power of love, and the kingdom does not excatly turn into some socialist mecca. I found the ending rather funny, when Danielle turns the tables on her stepmother, because it depends upon that very class sepeartion that Danielle keeps arguing against. Sure, the stepmother and daugther get their just desserts. But what about the other workers??? What did they do??? What is she going to do about them???
 

Rating: ***

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Copyright 2001
By David Macdonald

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