Film

A Cinderella Story (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

This updated Cinderella is named Sam, wears pink high tops, and spends her off-hours exchanging anonymous emails with her Prince Charming-to-be.


A Cinderella Story

Director: Mark Rosman
Cast: Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, Dan Byrd, Regina King, Julie Gonzalo, Lin Shaye, Madeline Zima, Andrea Avery
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-07-16

This updated Cinderella (Hilary Duff) is named Sam, wears pink high tops, and spends her off-hours exchanging anonymous emails with her Prince Charming-to-be, high school quarterback Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray). Raised by her amenable, hardworking dad Hal (Whip Hubley) to appreciate tomboyish pleasures rather than femme fashions, she's understandably devastated when, first, he, marries wicked, botox-injected Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge), and second, dies in a Los Angeles earthquake.

You might imagine these are terrible trials, but, this being a romantic teen comedy, the trauma is fleeting. Or rather, it leads directly to Sam's present day misery, living in Fiona's attic and playing always-on-call servant to her and daughters Brianna (Madeline Zima) and Gabriella (Andrea Avery). The stepsisters take water ballet classes for an instructor who visibly loathes their gaucherie but, like everyone in this film's L.A., lusts after Fiona's money, and so puts up with all kinds of humiliation. This "everyone" includes Sam, whose moral compass is somewhat skewed by her desperation to leave home (such as it is); a high school senior, she's applied to Princeton, and presumes Fiona will pay tuition -- as long as Sam performs her scullery maid duties with a smile.

While she has enough to do at home, Sam also works for Fiona at the diner that Hal once loved and tended; now renamed "Fiona's" and done up in the tackiest of décor (a porcelain Elvis guitar clock), the place still does decent business (and keeps Fiona and her daughters in expensive terrible clothes. Before and after school (where she's a straight-A student, of course), Sam waits tables (which entails roller skating and nametag-wearing), scrubs floors, and does dishes, encouraged to keep on by her dad's loyal-after-death employees -- Rhonda (Regina King), Bobby (Paul Rodriguez), and Eleanor (Mary Pat Gleason) -- the working class "others" whose approval makes Sam look gallant and admirable even when she's behaving as selfishly and childishly as anyone her age might.

Sam is relentlessly harassed by whiny Brianna and Gabriella (someone calls them "wannabe Olsen twins"), as well as her mean classmates, including standard issue bitch-diva/head cheerleader Shelby (Julie Gonzalo), who happens to be dating (or so she insists) Austin. Since Sam's support system at the diner ("You got a whole family behind you!") can't follow her to school, she has a best friend there too, a nerdly boy named Carter (Dan Byrd), who has an inexplicable but convenient crush on Shelby. (His primary function appears to be providing his mother's car, to transport Sam to the Big Dance.)

Since the conclusion is foregone -- Sam and Austin will hook up, her dreams will come true -- Mark Rosman's feeble film wrangles slight innovation out of its email gimmick (call it: You've Got Mail meets Ella Enchanted meets Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen), though Austin is so terribly slow on the uptake that even when he meets his dream girl in person, at the school's Halloween dance, he doesn't recognize her. Yes, she has a dainty mask over her eyes, to go with the wedding dress that Rhonda has lent her -- and don't even get me started on the aggravation of this plot point, that Rhonda (call her: Fairy Godmother) happens to have a wedding dress, boxed and waiting and perfectly fitting Sam, and Rhonda apparently has no life outside the diner and Sam -- but still! He sees her at the diner and/or school every day (he's part of the crowd that taunts her at work; they call her "Diner Girl," so imaginatively).

While it's completely unclear why Austin is the boy of Sam's dreams (his writing skills hardly seem extraordinary), her appeal for him is also vague. Apparently, on email, she encourages him to "be himself," that is, not the football star who's destined to take over his dad's car dealership, but a poet. You heard me. A poet. And he imagines her as "not just some chick. She was real, with more on her mind than what she's gonna wear or how much weight she's gonna lose." Or so he tells his idiot best friends.

Once Austin does learn Sam's identity -- via a horrifically mean skit performed by Shelby and the stepsisters, in front of the entire class at a pep rally (why are high school movies so extremely predictable? Is there no one in the business today who's seen Heathers?) -- he must make a decision: stand by his dream girl or play by dad's rules. Gee whiz.

Worse, Sam waits on Austin's decision. There's a roundabout bit of business just before the Big Game, when she decides she's lost everything and so she can march into the boys' locker room to tell him off, but really, her happiness is contingent on him making the right choice, and on Fiona getting what she deserves. Derivative by definition, this shoulda-been girl-power movie is only another tween fantasy, in which the girl gets the boy.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image