Most bad movies are just that. Bad. Boring. Unwatchable, even when you’re bored after having rewatched The Room for the umpteenth time. But select trash transcends mere garbage-bin status through the effervescent power of its subversive awfulness. These disasterpieces delight by being wretched in enthralling ways. You wonder how something so unintentionally transgressive could ever be made, particularly when top talent is behind it. Eventually, so-bad-they’re-good movies can even develop cult followings who enjoy the movie free of quotation marks. (Irony and sincerity are not so distant in relation, after all.) So, does Cinderella, with its 43% Rotten score, belong in the cinephile’s trash pile? Or is it yet another dull dud destined to be disregarded?
It’s Ella, Not Cinderella
Produced by Sony Pictures, Cinderella was sold due to the ongoing pandemic, which ultimately proved to be the right move for the entertainment conglomerate. Call it damage control. From its very first trailer, this now-Amazon Original musical showed promise – for disaster.
Starring singer Camila Cabello in her acting debut, the trailer hints at one of its modern updates. A sign reads “Dresses by Ella,” and you wonder what significance it foretells. Little, it turns out. Cinderella’s narrator tells us Ella is her real name – her stepsisters call her “Cinderella” because she is so often besmirched in cinder. We’re not making this up. The creative inertia only picks up from here.
The film’s musicals are mostly comprised of karaoke-level covers of pop songs. Cinderella opens with a near-sacreligious rendition of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.” And that’s not the worst of it. One of the film’s most confuzzling choices is The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” which crown prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) warbles to communicate… something. Film historians are still investigating.
Relying on already written songs seems lazy, and, worse than that, it’s distracting. You end up wondering which song you already know they’ll end up dusting off the shelf and butchering next. But hey, it beats the knockoff-Hamilton-in-high-school-band-form that serves as many painful-to-watch scene transitions. We’re all about the silver lining. You have to be an optimist, or a masochist, to watch this entire movie. You may actually enjoy yourself if you’re both.
Cinderella wants to have its cake, and leave none for you, thank you. Sure, you’ll find some platitudes that may have sounded daring to viewers in the early 1600s, but the hamfisted messaging is little more than perfunctory, performative lip service.
Princess Gwen (Tallulah Greive) in particular is the primary vehicle for dialogue that evokes “female empowerment [that] already feels vintage.” Indeed, her subplot, so singular in its progression, suggests monarchy is okay, as long as queens can have a turn, too – nevermind those peasants! Elsewhere, Ella’s passion for dressmaking is reduced to how she can sell her talent. Her creativity is reduced to a commodity to be courted by royalty. Because of course it is.
It’s Not All Bad
If nothing else, the film does at least boast a diverse cast of talented artists. Cabello has commendable comedic timing, and her performance in one of the movie’s original songs “Million to One” is moving. (Though the effect is dampened when Ella rather unnervingly sees a double of herself, but we digress.) In one of the film’s better moments, the singer’s Cuban heritage is incorporated into a dazzling number, breaking from most retellings of the fairy tale, and celebrating a multicultural approach to storytelling.
Billy Porter shines as the Fabulous Godmother and gives the film something it otherwise lacks: fun. His casting is also one of the few genuinely progressive choices; you won’t see Disney cast a gay-coded character in what is traditionally a woman’s role. Even the sea witch Ursula, inspired by actor and drag performer Divine, will be played by Melissa McCarthy in the House of Mouse’s upcoming 628th live-action remake The Little Mermaid, rather than the correct choice Tituss Burgess. Such is life.
But no other scene lives up to the film’s potential more than Idina Menzel’s performance of “Material Girl.” A theater legend, Menzel elevates Madonna’s signature song to an all-out cinematic camp classic, complete with vocal runs, goofy choreography, and wild facial expressions usually reserved for the stage. In other words, it’s iconic and essential viewing.
And They Lived Happily Ever After
Goodness, you know a movie is bad when you somehow forget to mention James Corden. Don’t get us started. We’d only accept him in his role as CGI mouse had he been squished under a glass slipper. While in human form.
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