Mark Reviews Movies


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Garry Marshall

Cast: Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, Mandy Moore, Caroline Goodall

MPAA Rating:

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 8/3/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

The light, live-action family films of the '60s are gone. The only remnants we have are the originals and the remakes, and The Princess Diaries proves it. This is one of the first original (in the loosest sense of the word) live action family movies I’ve come across in a while. It has a certain charm, to be sure, but charm can only take you so far. Here’s a movie that wants us to feel we’ve gotten everything, and essentially, we do get everything possible in a movie like this. There are arguments and apologies, pratfalls and puns, teen romance and adult romance, mean cheerleaders and misunderstood friends. That’s one of the biggest problems with the movie, it has too broad a scope in its formula.

The story harks back to Pygmalion, as Mia (Ann Hathaway), a clumsy, socially outcast fifteen year old, lives a relatively invisible life. No one notices her, unless she makes a fool of herself. One day, she discovers something interesting. Her grandmother (Julie Andrews) is the Queen of Genobia, which make her a princess. You’d think a girl who wants more out of her life would take this news with a certain air of, say, thankfulness. But Mia still slumps along now even more woeful of her state. She’s finally convinced to go along with her transformation and make a final decision by the time a royal ball comes around.

Now there’s a certain limited amount of material available when tackling something so well-worn as this, but somehow screenwriter Gena Wendkos has dragged out every possible element of this story and blown the whole thing out of focus. The important part of this tale is Mia’s transformation, but in this version, the conflict with her friend (Heather Matarazzo) is given just as much attention. In any other case, I would probably be thankful for such a detail, but when the conflict itself is simply a plot device to add conflict, I’m not. The movie tries too much with too little. There’s a subplot with the press, a subplot with the mean cheerleader (Mandy Moore), and eventually the whole metamorphosis seems to become a subplot in itself.

The transformation itself isn’t all that believable either. No matter what they try to do, you catch glimpses when you know that Hathaway is not a clumsy, awkward teenager. So when she’s finally changed, it’s not surprising. Then, to top it off, Hathaway is obviously not fifteen. My advice is to switch roles. Make Hathaway the socially aware friend and turn Martarazzo into the princess. Now you have my surprise and my attention.

The Princess Diaries slugs through its almost two hour running time. With established comedic director Garry Marshall at the helm, you’d at least think the movie would run smoothly. Not so—its pacing is way off, and it just drags. Whatever charm it has wears out very quickly.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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