A feisty, determined girl navigates her way through the perils of a daunting stepmother and two unsupportive stepsisters to fulfil her dream of becoming a dressmaker. She charts her path carefully only to have her plans bolstered unexpectedly by the prince of the kingdom. As love blossoms, so do her ambitions to become more than what’s expected of her.
Cinderella revolves around Ella, an ambitious girl who dreams of establishing a dressmaking business one day. Her chance encounter with the land's prince leads to instant romance but she is determined to not lead a cloistered life anymore.
A world where dreams come true – dreams propelled by a strong sense of self; a world where the cinder girl gets the guy, but her goal is far from that; a world where Cinderella has agency and is unafraid to optimally exercise it. Doesn’t seem to fit the “happily ever after” bill? Well, that’s exactly what is charming about Camilla Cabello’s version of the popular children’s fairytale.
Director and screenwriter Kay Cannon descends from her shimmery Pitch Perfect world to embrace the popular fable, well packed with her own twists. With Cabello’s captivating on screen presence and Idina Menzel’s sheer command over her voice and acting, Cannon creates a delightful space to reinvent the much-loved classic.
The film unabashedly subverts the fairytale trope, one which has been subject to understandable criticism for its reductive treatment of the “fairer sex”. Cinderella (or at least its bowdlerized version of the original Brothers Grimm story) contributed to years of mental conditioning that was steeped in distorted ideals. Patriarchy, girl-on-girl hatred, and misogyny served as catalysts in various retellings of this children’s favourite, systemically influencing impressionable minds to believe certain gender norms and societal mores as “traditionally normal.”
Cabello’s Cinderella has a different take on love and her quest for it. Ensconced in her dirty basement, our heroine does not trudge on with each day trying to extract the special out of it. She just believes every day is special, only that she’s got to keep her head high and mind resolute to survive.
As Cabello’s lilting voice dominates the screen, her version of the cinder-girl confidently croons, “If it’s a million to one, I’m gonna be that one. You’re gonna know my name.” Today’s Cinderella knows how exacting and unforgiving a world for the unresourceful can be, and she’s simply armed with self-confidence and a passionate zeal to make her dressmaking into a full-time profession.
Meanwhile, Menzel steps into the shoes of Vivian, Cinderella’s ominous stepmother, a classic antagonist in the annals of film history portrayed by veterans like Cate Blanchett (Disney’s 2015 version of Cinderella) and Anjelica Huston (Ever After: A Cinderella Story). Menzel’s prowess as a performer is glaringly obvious in her control of voice, expressions, and body language. Her gradual shift from voice acting to a full-blown appearance before the camera is everything marvellous.
Despite Menzel’s pitch-perfect villainy, Vivian is never purely nasty. Her forlorn, far away glances (as her daughters court less-than-perfect suitors) are too poignant to dismiss her person as just evil. Cannon’s treatment of Vivian is humane and layered, instead of the amateur one-note interpretations generally associated with the character. The character never evokes hatred, instead, audiences are sure to empathise with her embittered view of life and understand why she pushes for a man’s presence in it.
One of the major satirical themes that Cannon purposefully underscores throughout Cinderella’s runtime, is gender. Turning gender-based societal roles on its head, Cannon plays around with the should’s and should not’s of a man and woman’s functions. A ludicrously pathetic King Rowan (the inimitable Pierce Brosnan) decrees mindless orders in his “King voice”; successfully alienates his sharp-as-a-whip wife, Queen Beatrice (Minnie Driver in fascinating form); silences his proficient daughter from speaking on state matters or even taking a seat at the nobles’ table (unsurprisingly occupied by only men); and breathes down his son, Prince Robert’s (Nicholas Galitzine) shoulders, pestering him to marry (not necessarily for love) and consolidate the royal bloodline.
But despite Rowan’s need to be the sole mouthpiece of his family unit, Cannon demotes him to a mere ridiculous man, hopelessly trying to cope with the crippling pressures of the crown.
However, the women in the family are depicted as centred, ambitious, and keenly aware of their lack of rights.
Easily the highlight of the film, Billy Porter’s pizzazz as Fab G (fairy godmother) uplifts the film’s gender-fluid approach to traditionally sacrosanct roles. Porter, much to the delight of viewers, seamlessly slips into his MET Gala avatar and shines (both literally and metaphorically) as the benevolent, helpful aide to Cinderella’s dream-fulfilment.
Jessica Weiss creates magic with her Broadway-meets-Hollywood soundtrack and belts out mellifluous tracks that not only sound harmonious but fit the narrative perfectly at the necessary junctures. Worthy of mention are ‘Rhythm Nation’, ‘Somebody to Love’, ‘Material Girl’, and a soulful rendition of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect.’
Initially sceptical of yet another ‘modern’ retelling of an already-problematic children’s tale, this reviewer marvelled at Hollywood’s messaging through Cinderella, a narrative traditionally steeped in regressive tropes.
Verdict: If not for its enchanting truisms and fantastic treatment of gender equity, give this one a watch to witness a timelessly handsome Brosnan serenading a coy Driver (that too down on one knee!)