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Weekly Alibi Fairly Tale

By Devin D. O'Leary

AUGUST 10, 1998:  Ever since William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, Hollywood has been searching for costume dramas to which they can add some jazzy MTV-style cuts and an amped-up alt.rock soundtrack (at least in the trailer). Since teenage girls became such a powerful demographic (Titanic anyone?), no one in Hollywood has gone broke appealing to the backpack-and-tanktop crowd. The latest teen dream effort to mix brocade and burgeoning love is Ever After, a mod-minded update of the classic "Cinderella" story.

Drew Barrymore stars as Danielle, a plucky orphan with an evil stepmother (Anjelica Huston) and a major hankering for a hunky prince (played by hunky newcomer Dougray Scott). Writer/director Andy Tennant (who made his inauspicious feature debut with the Olsen twins opus It Takes Two) sticks to the finer points of the "Cinderella" myth, but tries to inject a more "realistic" tone. Things start out in the royal court of France where Mssrs. Grimm and Grimm (of "The Brothers Grimm" fame) are called before Her Royal Majesty. The elderly Queen has just read the brothers' latest fairy tale and wants to set the record straight. She pulls out an antique glass slipper and proceeds to tell the tale of her great grandmother, the "real" Cinderella.

Since this in the '90s, we're asked to swallow a 16th century heroine who reads books, is incredibly intelligent, highly independent and possesses (according to the press kit) "an intriguing mix of tomboy athleticism and physical beauty." Our new cinematic Cinderella is so damn progressive that she's even called upon to rescue the prince on a number of occasions. Now don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against strong role models for girls. I'm all for powerful female heroines (as my abiding love for "Xena: Warrior Princess" should attest). It's just that Tennant's brilliant idea of a tough fairy tale heroine comes a few years too late. I can't recall the last movie I saw in which the heroine failed to punch out the villain. Disney has made a whole industry of plucky, independent heroines for at least the last decade. Tennant has obviously been taking a lot of mental notes from the folks at Disney. Danielle's oft-professed love of books, for example, seems like a blatant swipe from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. A number of Tennant's ideas (like making Leonardo Da Vinci Danielle's "fairy godmother") aren't nearly as clever as he thinks. Danielle even shows up at the climactic costume ball dressed as an angel--another element Tennant seems to have forgotten stealing from another movie, this time Romeo + Juliet.

The biggest problem with accepting our revisionist Cinderella is that Tennant has removed her from her fairy tale setting. In a fairy tale, of course, you can get away with anything. By placing "Cinderella" in actual 16th century France and portraying her story as real, it becomes much harder to swallow her consistently anachronistic attitude. All Danielle has to do is demand suffrage, work in a munitions factory, burn her bra and declare her love for the Spice Girls to wrap up the last several hundred years of feminism in one medieval package. ... Although, why (aside from plot device) a girl ballsy enough to bitch out the Prince of France for his political beliefs would spend her life kowtowing to a nasty stepmother isn't quite clear.

That said, the teenage girls to whom this film is undoubtedly aimed will probably accept Danielle quite readily. There has been a familiar trend lately in teen romance stories (fostered, in no small part, by Leonardo DiCaprio). In the 1970s, there was huge money in the blaxploitation genre. These campy, almost fantasy-style action flicks featured the downtrodden blacks of the day rising up and triumphing against "The Man" (in the form of corrupt cops or politicians) who has kept them down. In the 1990s, there seems to be limitless profit in the Teensploitation genre. Now it's downtrodden kids fighting off the oppression of "The Man" (in the form of emotionally frigid parents) who has kept them from loving who they want. I doubt, in this day and age, many kids have actually gotten flack from their blue-blooded parents for wanting to marry someone from the wrong side of the tracks. Kids of today have simply taken the "My rich, snobby parents won't let me marry the poor but sincere boy" message of Titanic and interpolated it into their own life (where it comes out something like, "My uptight, middle-class parents won't let me get my belly button pierced"). Unfortunately, these new "fight the power" films lack the sense of humor and camp that their '70s progenitors had. There's a certain overearnestness to films like Titanic (or Ever After) that makes them slightly less palatable for the adults in the audience.

Once Ever After gives up its pretension of realism, however (probably about the time that Richard O'Brien shows up as a nasty French villain named Pierre Le Pieu), things get a little bit fun. Danielle does get to perform one very amusing rescue of the prince from some surly Gypsies, and there are several hokey, but cheer-worthy moments (like Danielle delivering the inevitable right cross to her evil stepsister). As the press kit suggests, "This is not your grandmother's Cinderella." You got that right.

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