Modern Jukebox Musical Update of ‘Cinderella’ is Here to Sweep You Off Your Feet

1 Comment

Cinderella (2021) (CREDIT: Kerry Brown/Amazon)

Starring: Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, Tallulah Greive, Billy Porter, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer

Director: Kay Cannon

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Slightly Off-Color Dialogue

Release Date: September 3, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video and Limited Theaters)

How can it ever be allowed that movies don’t first open in the theater? Look, I know we’re in a precarious situation right now in which theatrical releases don’t always look like a safe or financially viable option, but there are certain flicks that just demand to be seen on the big screen. Personally, I believe that’s true of all films, but it’s especially in the case of this jukebox musical version of Cinderella, written and directed by Pitch Perfect vet Kay Cannon. This is exactly the sort of movie that should have people getting up and singing and dancing in the aisles! Sure, you can also do that in your living room, but we know that’s not the same as losing yourself in a dark room full of strangers. This is a piece of art that begins with a mashup of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” and I’m sorry, but if that’s the message you’re delivering, then you can’t keep me confined to non-theatrical viewing options.

So here’s the journey that Cinderella 2021 took to finally arrive in front of our eyeballs: in pre-pandemic days, Sony scheduled it for a February 2019 theatrical release, but then in May 2021, they cut a deal with Amazon to have it go straight to Prime Video. May of this year! A time when things looked promising! Anyway, I suppose that Cinderella can still be enjoyed at home. I enjoyed it that way, after all! Just gather around the kids and a bunch of your friends and maybe make a party out of it. It’s the rare modern retelling of a classic story that’s neither too surface-level nor too overly specific. The setting is still “Generic Medieval English Village,” but the dialogue is a close-enough facsimile to the 21st century to have enough upside.

The message boils down to the fairly straightforward “Maybe we don’t have to fulfill the roles that society has prescribed to us,” but the details are well-considered. Camila Cabello is the plucky Ella (the “Cinder” nickname comes from her stepsisters associating her with cinder blocks), who doesn’t just want to wear pretty dresses and marry a prince – she wants to run her own dressmaking business and marry that prince only if he’ll support her career aspirations. And she’s not the only character who’s granted a thoughtful reconsideration. Her stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) isn’t cruel because she’s evil, but rather because her own dashed dreams have driven her towards cynicism.

We also get to know more about Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine) and his family: the King who’s boxed in by tradition (Pierce Brosnan), the Queen who’s wondering where the passion in her marriage went (Minnie Driver), and the Princess who just wants to be taken seriously (Tallulah Grieve). And of course we can’t forget Fab G, the fairy godparent brought to typically fabulous life by Billy Porter. If anybody can be anything, why wouldn’t that character be played by one of the most effervescent entertainers alive today? Similarly, whenever Cinderella 2021 operates by the logic of “If a new Cinderella can be whatever we want, then let’s do whatever we want,” it just transports you away.

Cinderella 2021 is Recommended If You Like: Galavant, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Billy Porter Realness, The delightful TBS sitcom Miracle Workers

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Dresses

This Is a Movie Review: Three Teenage Girls Make a Sex Pact, But It is the Parents of ‘Blockers’ Who Are Behaving Badly

2 Comments

CREDIT: Quantrell D. Colbert/Universal Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon

Director: Kay Cannon

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: R for Girls Talking About Sex Without Any Shame, Butt Chugging and the Like, and a Concerning Amount of Drug Use

Release Date: April 6, 2018

What to do with a movie that has a really great message but that plays fast-and-loose with any sense of realism? You take the good, you take the bad – the facts of life! I didn’t go into this meaning to name-check a classic ’80s TV theme song, but as it popped into my head, it just felt remarkably right. At its core, and at its best, Blockers emphasizes the fact that teenage girls have sexual desires and treats that truth as matter-of-factly as it deserves to be treated. This isn’t some “girls can be gross, too!” twist on a “boys will be boys” classic. The sex here approached with maturity and it is often romantic. Any grossness in Blockers is due to insecurity or lapses in plausibility.

Have sex pacts ever occurred in real life? If so, I hope they are as supportive and sweetly motivated as the one in Blockers. On the occasion of her senior prom, Julie (Kathryn Newton) announces to her lifelong friends Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) her intention to lose her virginity tonight to her boyfriend. Sensing an opportunity for a shared anniversary, Kayla and Sam declare that they are in as well. They may not be in as serious a relationship as Julie is, but they’ve got guys who they like well enough and who have the necessary equipment. But when Julie’s mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla’s dad Mitch (John Cena), and Sam’s dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) catch wind of the pact, they are not going to stand idly by as their girls become women.

It is distressing that these parents have such regressively protective attitudes, though it is encouraging that they are presented as the ones so clearly in the wrong. And what’s more, their motivations are more complicated than not trusting their daughters. Lisa is a single mom who has raised Julie alone her whole life. She is struggling through deep-seated separation anxiety, worrying that Julie getting closer to her boyfriend means she will attend college thousands of miles away, which means that she could disappear forever. Director Kay Cannon and her team of screenwriters handle this unflinchingly, and I wish they would have devoted even more time to it. Hunter, meanwhile, knows that Sam is gay and is worried that her friends are forcing her to do something she doesn’t really want to do. Originally introduced as a deadbeat screw-up, he ends up coming off as the most open-minded of the trio, though the film does lose focus a bit on that tack for the sake of gags. Mitch is really the only one who comes as the stereotypically overprotective parent, and though Cena does imbue him with a fair amount of sweetness, he feels out of place in what the film is ultimately saying.

Blockers’ message that teenage girls should be allowed to make their own sexual decisions, especially if they are with boys (or otherwise) who they like and respect, is indisputably valuable. While it may be underlined a little too obviously, perhaps it is a message that needs to be repeated. It is also heartening to see a group of supportive teenage female friends on screen. Julie, Kayla, and Sam have their stark differences, but their loyalty runs deep. That well of positivity offsets a bit the parents’ surplus of bad behavior, which stretches the bounds of credulity a bit too much. Seriously, Blockers, you’re plenty funny without having to resort to butt chugging beer. That is to say, this is a movie that is much more sure-footed when it comes to romance (somehow making licorice the perfect food for declaring love) than when it swerves into the territory of illegal behavior.

Blockers is Recommended If You Like: Superbad and other Judd Apatow productions, particularly if they feature insecure parents, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Clueless

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sex Pacts