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Monte Carlo

Director: Thomas Bezucha
Cast: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Luke Bracey, Cory Moneith, Pierre Boulanger

(US DVD: 18 Oct 2011)

A bright, inoffensive bit of cinematic fluff, Monte Carlo came and went from theaters this past summer with nary a word good or bad said about it. One could be forgiven for mistaking it for one of any other number of similarly themed and cast movies involving up and coming Disney starlets, lavishly frilly dresses, improbably mistaken identities and mismatched friends bonding abroad. One could also be forgiven for having forgotten one had seen this specific film immediately upon finishing it, or confused it with other similar ones, and so this reviewer asks your forgiveness preemptively if he mistakenly refers to Monte Carlo as The Lizzie McGuire Movie, or What a Girl Wants, or The Prince and Me, or (sorry, Audrey) Roman Holiday in the following review.


To jog my memory and stay on point, here are some specific questions, with on-point answers:


Will I like Monte Carlo if I am a 8-12 year old girl?


Absolutely, undoubtedly, 100 percent YES (with one major caveat). Monte Carlo is a slam dunk of tweener wish fulfillment: glittery, colorful and breezy enough to hold a young girl’s rapt attention, with cute boys for eye candy and just enough forward plot momentum to never drag, and an added bonus of demonstrable emotional growth by the characters that could subliminally colonize an impressionable mind (for the good).


N.b. For girls smitten with Justin Bieber, Monte Carlo could be poison, since it stars Selena Gomez, the Bieb’s current steady paramour.


Why would someone other than a 8-12 year old girl want to watch Monte Carlo?


Do you like Leighton Meester? A better question: Who doesn’t like Leighton Meester?  An up and comer on the verge, she seems poised now to break away from television and become a viable movie star. Combining a knowing slyness with sure comic timing and a sort of lurking, subtle pathos, she can’t help but appeal. Plus, she’s just adorable, isn’t she? We offer Ms. Meester up as a totally valid reason why an adult audience would at least tolerate Monte Carlo, if not actively want to see it. 


Also, the scenes of Paris and Monte Carlo are very very pretty, of course, bringing out the best of both cities.


Does Selena Gomez have what it takes to be a marquee film draw, or will she be condemned to the scrap heap like so many other Disney starlets before her?


First, do you know who Selena Gomez is? You may, if you are pop culture or celebrity obsessed, know her only (as previously mentioned) as Justin Bieber’s girlfriend. Or you may recognize her, if you have kids who tune in to Disney’s screechy, overacted “comedic” programming, know her as the star of Wizards of Waverly Place (to be sure, one of the less grating of Disney’s typically very grating in house produced shows). Or, if you are one to indulge in pop music guilty pleasures, you may be a fan (like this reviewer unapologetically is) of Ms. Gomez’s quite successful and prolific music career (which seems to be a mandatory component of the typical Disney starlet CV – see also Hillary Duff; see also Demi Lovato; see also especially Miley Cyrus, whose very pop culture identity, both on screen and of, is predicated and so wholly enwrapped by the existence of her fictitious popstar alterego Hannah Montana that one could probably write a whole thesis on the meta-ness of it all).


But can she, you know, act? It’s hard to make a definitive judgment from Monte Carlo, but I’m going to give a tentative yes. In the film, she plays dual roles, primarily Grace, a recent high school grad from small town Texas, who is jetting off to Paris on a long-saved-for trip with her best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy, who looks old enough to be Gomez’s mother) and sourpuss stepsister Meg (Meester).  The other role, of course, and one we see too little of, is Gomez playing Cordelia, a spoiled, stuck up, filthy rich British heiress party girl and somehow an identical, but totally unrelated, twin/doppelganger of Grace.


The paths of the two girls intersect in the bathroom of a lavish Parisian hotel, and when Cordelia shirks her family responsibilities to show up at a charity auction to be held in Monte Carlo, Grace is coincidentally on the scene to be mistaken for her rich, British double, and she and her friends are all too quickly whisked off to the titular city and dumped into the jetsetting life of the fabulously rich and famous (all without Cordelia’s knowledge, as she inexplicably disappears for most of the rest of the film).


What follows is so by the numbers that I was surprised only by how unsurprised I was – Grace and Co. get to stay in lavish suites that take up entire floors of fancy hotels; try on an array of fantastic ball gowns; attend balls given in Cordelia’s honor; play equestrian polo; dine on yachts; fall in love; and get to wear lots of superglittery, superexpensive jewelry.  All the while Grace of course has to try to stay in character and trick everyone into believe that she is in fact Cordelia, which is problematic, of course, because she knows nothing about the heiress or her life, and tends to inadvertently act in ways that the real Cordelia would never act in, and doesn’t know anything about her own supposed past, which the entrance of Cordelia’s aunts onto the scene makes into a looming problem.


Also problematic is that she keeps slipping in and out of her feigned British accent with alarming regularity, which I initially thought was accidental and unfortunate and a stain on Gomez’s wavering acting (or at least accent) skills, but then discovered was 100 percent deliberate when other characters start to mention it to Grace, and she has to come up with ever more elaborate excuses as to why she’s pretending to have an American accent. All of this might actually be the writers just trying to cover for Gomez, but I prefer to think give them all the benefit of the doubt and call it clever.


Plus, when the real Cordelia actually shows up again late in the film, Gomez goes all in, unwaveringly, indulging fully in haughty, spoiled British bitch mode, and she is just tremendous, much more enjoyable than the bright-eyed, goody-goody Grace, and makes me not a small bit disappointed that they couldn’t have jockeyed the script around to have more of Cordelia and Grace around at the same time sparring with each other. A missed opportunity, but one that bodes well for Gomez’s chops in future roles, which she can hopefully parlay into a more successful and long lived career than Hillary Duff, or, as its trending now, Miley Cyrus.


Yes yes, that’s all very nice, but what about the clothes?!


There are certain hard-and-fast, written in stone rules about tweener wish fulfillment movies, especially those in which the heroine is mistaken for a princess or a spoiled rich girl, and paramount among them is the clothes changing montage (which generally goes hand in hand with the make-over montage, where the “ugly duckling” poor girl is revealed to actually be drop dead gorgeous). We want lots of frilly, lavish dresses, we demand lots of frilly, lavish dresses, and we want them now!


Monte Carlo does have our heroines festooned in lavish ballgowns to be sure, but the actual sequence where they discover said ballgowns and try them on is distressingly short, so much so, that I thought that there had to be some sort of mistake, or that I got a broken disc to review, that skipped precisely at the dress montage moment. But no! And there were none others to follow, nor any secreted away in the deleted scenes! I have very rarely been so shocked while watching a film. What could this all mean? Does Monte Carlo actually have bigger fish to fry?


Bigger fish? Bigger lessons?


Oh, why not! Though hardly the point, all three girls have appreciable character arcs that are more fleshed out than typical for these types of films, and learn some Very Valuable Lesson about life through their brief sojourn among the rich. Meg, previously dour, pessimistic and unloving of fun, or life in general, perks up, becomes more optimistic and starts to love life and have fun with her hot new Aussie boyfriend, who conveniently offers her the solution to all her existential problems in all his hunky happy-go-luckiness. Boy crazy Emma learns that true love was always back in small town Texas with her boyfriend Owen (who travels all the way to Paris then Monte Carlo to try to save their relationship, even though the girls will be only gone for a week), and that just because the rich have deep pockets does not mean that they are in fact deep, or possess the deepness of the heart she wants.


Grace, to her chagrin, finally finds true love by living a lie, and has to somehow convince the Euroboy of her dreams (rich gadabout Theo) that she is worthy of his attentions even if she is not filthy rich. He, of course, manages to push through his hang-ups about her ruse and discovers that she is not some grifter but is just the sort of humanitarian do-gooder that he thought she was back when she was pretending to be Cordelia.  Lessons learned!


Glittery special features?!


The DVD release of Monte Carlo is inexplicably short on substantive special features (there are a few more on the Blu-ray, which was not available to review). A grab bag of deleted scenes runs six minutes total, and aside from a short denouement explaining the ultimate fate of Cordelia doesn’t really add much (again, I can’t begin to describe my rage at the lack of lengthy clothes changing montages).  Another six minute piece about the three actors playing the girls’ love interests is mostly just the actresses fawning over their costars. Some trailers and an interactive quiz about the movie round out the extras (I’ve since found out that the better features – a short travelogue, interviews with Gomez and Meester, and a bit about constuming and make-up – are all on the Blu-ray, naturally.)

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