‘Cinderella’ harmless fun

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Hey, guess what? I liked &uot;The Cinderella Story!&uot;

You know, I can just see my teenage readers saying, &uot;What? He liked that? Isn’t he, like, 26?&uot; Ah, the perils of old age, even for those who have been here but a quarter-century.

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The new Hilary Duff vehicle, one more in the multitude of ‘tweener’ girl-focused films this year alone (&uot;Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,&uot; &uot;13 Going on 30&uot;), is the 10-gazillionth remake of the legendary fairytale. We’re now in the upscale Southern California, and Duff is Samantha Montgomery, who lost her father in the Northridge earthquake of 1994 (quite a heartbreaking scene, really) and is now at the whim, wants and whines of her evil stepmother, the Botox-addicted Fiona (the dark side of Stifler’s mom from &uot;American Pie&uot;!) and Fiona’s daughters Brianna and Gabriella (Madeline Zima and Andrea Avery).

Sam dreams of one day running away to Princeton, but Fiona’s got her hands on the purse strings (and, through it, the tuition), and Sam is forced to toil away in Fiona’s diner, the IHOP-esque Fiona’s.

There are, however, a few bright lights in Sam’s life – her Prince Charming of Cyberspace, who she’s been e-mailing and text-messaging (letters must be so yesterday!) admirer Nomad. In reality, he’s Austin (boy band look-alike Chad Murphy), who just happens to be the hottest guy in school and captain of the football team, who just happens be dating the head cheerleader, who, again, just happens to be a spoiled snob who looks down on all those without credit cards and Porsches.

Her other bright spots are her co-workers, led by sassy mother-figure (or, in this case, fairy godmother figure) Rhonda (Regina King) and others, the only ones that offer Sam a certain comfort.

As Prom Night approaches, Rhonda helps Sam with her costume, a beleaguered wedding dress along with a mask that covers only her eyes (most glasses cover more). Because this is a fairytale, she sweeps Prince Austin off his feet, only to have to run away at the eleventh hour (literally, as it’s about 11 p.m.), leaving behind his only clue to find his lost princess – her cell phone (with the lock feature on, something glass slippers never had).

Duff’s always been good with the bubbly young girl thing, which helped &uot;Lizzie Maguire&uot; get as popular as it did. But she pushes that to the backburner, not really letting it out until the last third. Instead, she balances Sam’s downcast nature with a certain charm that helps us feel her sadness.

Coolidge, on the other hand, takes the pit bull by the teeth and runs with it, firing evil one-liners at Duff and worshipping the ground on which she herself walks. The film will probably be used as a hopeful springboard to stardom by Zima and Avery, who don’t have much to do except leg-choke each other during synchronized swimming and basically harass each other when they’re not tormenting Duff, although their carwash catfight is a scream.

If there’s one main issue with the film, it’s character development, or actually the lack thereof. About 90 percent of the characters are their own one-dimensional stereotypes – the rich kids are all snobs, the cheerleaders think they’re just so hot, the jocks are all mindless gorillas, and the poor, hardworking folk are the only ones with warm hearts. Sam is portrayed as an outcast, ugly ducking at school, even though someone as lovely as Duff would be the cheerleading and Homecoming queen at almost every school in America. The part where Austin can’t recognize Sam just because her mask covers only her eyes is also contrived. But then again, this is a kids’ (or at least an adolescents’) film, so maybe we should go elsewhere if we’re looking for deep thought.

Maybe that’s why the film works as well as it does. It goes over the top, and doesn’t take itself seriously. But remember, this isn’t &uot;Gone with the Wind,&uot; or &uot;Citizen Kane.&uot; It’s not supposed to be serious. It’s not supposed to be totally realistic, but there’s still a message here about believing in your dreams and never letting anyone or anything negative stand before you. In fairytales, the good girls always win in the end – in real life, maybe they can as well.

No, &uot;Cinderella&uot; is nothing you haven’t seen before. But it’s something you’ll want to see again. It’s great if you’re a 13-year-old girl – or even a decrepit reporter.

Grade: B