Saturday, March 17, 2012

Movie – Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

Like my previously reviewed film Freeway, Ever After is also a real life movie based on a fairy tale – in this case, Cinderella.  Ever After is nowhere near as “adult” as Freeway, though.  It is a combination of light drama and a little bit of humor – a historical movie with some romance in it, as you would expect from the tale it is based on.  The biggest difference in the two films is in how the fairy tale is integrated into the story.  In Freeway the viewer can understand that this is a Little Red Riding Hood story, but the characters do not.  In Ever After, the Cinderella story is presented as being based on actual historical events that have become confused over the years.  I was expecting something light and forgettable and I found that Ever After had plenty of substance to it and that it was quite enjoyable.

Ever After stars Drew Barrymore as the main character.  This film, along with a co-starring role in Wedding Singer the same year, and a small appearance in Scream just before, were what revived Barrymore’s career and turned her into a romantic lead in movies for a while.  She, along with Anjelica Huston who plays her stepmother, are the reasons to see this film.

It is the 1800s and the Brothers Grimm are summoned to the court of an elderly French Grande Dame (Jeanne Moreau – La Femme Nikita).  She criticizes them for their story they published about “the little cinder girl.”  They point out that there have been many versions of the tale handed down through the years, and admit that their story has things in it which are not believable, such as the glass slippers.  The Grande Dame then brings out a case holding, you guessed it, a glass slipper.  She tells them that the little cinder girl was very much a real person and that she was her great, great grandmother.  They ask her to tell them the real story, and she does.

Danielle is a young girl and loves her father (Jeroen Krabbe – Immortal Beloved) very much.  One day he brings home a new wife (Anjelica Huston) with two daughters.  Danielle doesn’t get along with them very well, and unfortunately her father soon dies, leaving her in the care of her stepmother.  The story then transitions to Danielle as an adult (Barrymore), who is treated as nothing better than a servant in her own house.  She cooks, cleans, and yes, sweeps out the cinders from the fireplace.

One day she stops a young man from stealing her family’s horse.  She is horrified to discover that it is Prince Henry (Dougray Scott – Mission Impossible II).  He is too busy trying to escape an arranged marriage to be bothered by her actions and he pays her for the horse he was trying to steal.  Once on the road he stops a robbery of an old man, who turns out to be Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey – The Remains of the Day).  Henry waits with him until the authorities come along, then he accompanies them all back to court.  Danielle has also gone to court to use the gold the Prince gave her to buy back a servant that her stepmother callously sold to pay off debts.  She and the Prince meet again.  He asks her who she is, but she gives him her mother’s name instead, and adds a title to it.  She leaves before he can pursue her any further.

Prince Henry returns the horse and meets the stepmother.  She is determined to marry her oldest daughter Marguerite (Megan Dodds – MI-5) to the Prince.  Ignoring her other daughter Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey – Heavenly Creatures) turns out to be a mistake because the girl was already somewhat sympathetic toward Danielle and now she really takes her side.  The Prince meets Danielle again and this time she manages to save him from gypsies in what is one of my favorite scenes.

Prince Henry’s father finally gives his son an ultimatum – find his own bride by Midnight of a ball that will be held, or the King will move forward with the arranged marriage to the daughter of the King of Spain.  A page (Toby Jones – Captain America) is sent to Danielle’s house to invite all four women to the ball.  Naturally, the stepmother tries to prevent Danielle from attending since she wants her own daughter to catch the eye of the Prince.  Leonardo da Vinci, alerted by the servants, manages to help Danielle escape, and he fashions an outfit for her to wear to the ball.  She attends, but is revealed to be lying about who she is by her stepmother.  Prince Henry is taken aback, and in her distress Danielle runs out, accidentally leaving one of the glass slippers da Vinci had made for her.  As you might expect, this is not the end of the story, though.

As I mentioned at the top, both Barrymore and Huston do excellent jobs in their roles.  I still consider this to be the best performance Barrymore has given on screen.  It really changed my opinion of her from being a former child actress trying to hang on in Hollywood to someone who could have quite a career ahead of her.  And what can you say about the great Anjelica Huston?  She was perfectly cast as the stepmother who is “wicked”, but not cartoonishly so.  She is doing what many people did – trying to advance herself and her children at the expense of others.  She has a formidable opponent in Danielle, though. 

Dougray Scott does a serviceable job as Prince Henry, but he’s really a supporting character in the film.  Like Freeway, this is a female-led movie with a major supporting male character.  Other parallels between the two films include bad home lives and the main characters triumphing through their own force of will and smarts, and not being rescued by someone else.

Even though this film has several historical figures in it, like Braveheart or the recent movie Anonymous, Ever After should not be taken as historical truth.  Much was changed or tweaked in order to tell the story (i.e. while da Vinci did come to France it was around the time Prince Henry was born, not when Henry was an adult).

There is still more to the movie’s story after the ball than what is in the original fairy tale, but I will not detail it since it would be spoilers.  You know how it will ultimately end up, of course.  I have to say that I really loved when it comes back to the Grande Dame and the Brothers Grimm after she finishes her story.  As she tells them, “…while they did live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they lived.”

If you like films with strong female characters then this is a good one for you.  If you prefer your historical movies to be more historically accurate in facts and presentation of the characters, then this is not the movie for you.  I had low expectations for it and ending up liking it quite a bit.  I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. I liked this, too. And, you're right Huston is excellent in this. Seeing Jean Moreau was a pleasant surprise as well.

  2. @KimWilson - Thanks for commenting. I'm not sure if I recognized Moreau by appearance from La Femme Nikita first, or by her voice from narrating The Lover. Her voice is quite distinctive.

  3. I have a soft spot for this film. It's entertaining. I don't hold it in high regard but it's one of those movies where it's on TV and nothing interesting is on. It's kind of a last resort but it has a great cast.

  4. @thevoid99 - thanks for commenting. There are some films that I will stop and watch if I see them while flipping through channels. One is The Hunt for Red October and another is Groundhog Day.