False advertising! I would like to contact the Better Business Bureau and cry foul against Twentieth Century Fox. The trailers for "Ever After: A Cinderella Story" promised a unique take on the classic fairy tale, with an ethereal and alternative soundtrack, rapid-fire editing and dark tone. In the clips, "Ever After" appeared to be a marriage of Baz Luhrman's recent overhaul of "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet." with "The Princess Bride." But what you get is something altogether different.
The framework for this reality-based retelling offers us the Grand Dame of France, played by the legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau, as the only person who can tell the "true" Cinderella story, and so the story begins. From here, screenwriters Susannah Grant, Rick Parks and Andy Tennant, who also directed, throw in many surprising plot twists, but few are inspired.
Directly upon the arrival of her stepmother and two stepsisters, wholesome tomboy Danielle, a.k.a. Cinderella (Anna Maguire as the really young girl and Drew Barrymore thereafter) witnesses the death of her beloved father. She immediately is relegated to servant status by her cold-hearted stepmother Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) and her stepsisters, the vain and conniving Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and the meek and chubby Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey). The film fails to offer any solid reason for Danielle's appointment to servitude -- the first in a long string of confusing developments.
Years later, while picking apples one day, the still feisty Danielle witnesses what she believes to be a horse thief and bonks him in the head with an apple. The horse thief turns out to be Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), heir to the throne of France, who is running away from an arranged marriage to a Spaniard.
Days later, Danielle heads to the castle dressed as a courtier to bargain for the freedom of a family retainer who has been shipped off to debtor's prison. Once again she runs into the prince, but this time passes herself off as a visiting countess. Not recognizing her as the servant girl, and after engaging in a spirited banter with her, he lets the servant go. Captivated by her charm, he later realizes he doesn't know where to find her and thus begins his search for his own choice for his bride.
In keeping with what the filmmakers deem reality, the "bippity-boppity-boo" fairy godmother magic is eschewed, leaving the court's artist-in-residence, one Leonardo da Vinci, and the "nice" stepsister, Jacqueline to successfully guide Danielle to the ball. But it is at the ball where the film completely falls apart. The hitherto spunky Danielle turns to mush after the prince rejects her when he finds that she's not royalty. In short, the previously free-thinking prince becomes a boorish lout. Both of these extreme character shifts come off as completely implausible, and they offer nothing more than a route to extend the film's length and redeem both characters in the end.
Barrymore, whose odd accent never really finds a center, is sufficiently appealing as Danielle, but often times seems to be above this lackluster project. And Anjelica Huston, who could have wowed audiences if the hinted at darker tone had been allowed to develop, comes off as little more than a buffoon. The film's magnificence lies in the rustic locales. But while the castles, countryside and ruins are breathtaking, the film itself never comes close to that status.
"Ever After," which is from the same studio that brought you "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet," seized upon that film's successful old-story-made-new-and-hip angle. Unfortunately, the finished product loses the magic used to sell it, leaving "Ever After" an empty promise.