Release Date:  July 16, 2004
Rating:  PG (for mild language and innuendo)
Genre:  Comedy/Romance
Run Time: 96 min
Director:  Mark Rosman
Actors: Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, Dan Byrd, Regina King, Julie Gonzalo, Lin Shaye, Madeline Zima, Andrea Avery, Whip Hubley

Well, it’s the third time this year for a Cinderella remake, but tragically, this one is not the charm.

Sam (Hilary Duff) and her father (Whip Hubley) get along great, despite the fact that Sam has no mother and we aren’t told why. But dear old Dad isn’t as smart as he seems. He falls for Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge), a woman who despises cute little Sam. He then leaves Sam during an earthquake and dies – without a will.

Flash forward eight years. Sam is living in the attic and driving a “beat up old car.” She spends her free time working at her dad’s diner, now redone by the hated Fiona. Her paycheck goes toward future tuition at Princeton, Sam’s dream school. The one bright spot in Sam’s life is “Nomad,” a mysterious admirer she met in a Princeton chat room who sends her instant messages every day.  The two go to the same high school, but have yet to meet. Little does Sam realize that “Nomad” is actually Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray), the school quarterback and president of the student body who regularly ignores Sam as his friends make fun of her, calling her “Diner Girl.”

When “Nomad” suggests to Sam, aka “Princeton Girl,” that they meet on the dance floor at the Halloween dance, Sam wants to go, but Fiona insists that she work that night. Rhonda (Regina King), who runs the diner, insists that Sam go, however, and outfits Sam in a dazzling dress. But Sam has to return before midnight, when Fiona will arrive to check up on her. Will she finally meet her prince?

Although this film seems to be a cross between “Mean Girls” and “Ella Enchanted,” both of which were far stronger films, it has a few creative moments, like the substitution of a cell phone for a glass slipper and the theatrical character of Carter (Dan Byrd). The filmmakers should also be commended for their lack of obscenities, profanities and nudity, although the potty humor could and should have been bypassed as well. It truly takes the film down a notch to see young women passing gas in a pool.

Unfortunately, the film fails to achieve any cinematic heights and offers a trite moral message. It’s also a blatant advertisement for teenage dating and romance.

I find it hard to believe that Sam, who drives a vintage Mustang convertible and lives in a trendy loft-type room, is really a pitiful character. Her step-family is cruel, but it’s absurd to think that, with Sam’s gorgeous looks, she would be the hated school geek. And why is it that Austin doesn’t recognize her after meeting her at the dance in a mask that barely covers her eyes?

The adorable Duff does an okay job with the role, which is all that’s really needed. Coolidge and the two stepsisters (Madeline Zima and Andrea Avery) overact, and the slapstick antics are a bit much, although Fiona’s “salmon” diet was funny. Murray’s character, on the other hand, is a real dud. He’s cute, but he’s weak. He doesn’t stand up to his hateful friends, he lets his dad walk all over him and his girlfriend is the nasty head cheerleader, Shelby (Julie Gonzalo). Okay, so he wants to change his life, become a writer and go to Princeton instead of U.S.C. But does he have to be such a wet washcloth in the meantime? Not my idea of Prince Charming at all. The only redeeming character, besides Sam, is Carter, but he falls for the shallow Shelby, too. Yech!

The cheesiest part of the film is its message, which consists of banalities like “believe in yourself” and “have faith in yourself” – all clichés without any real substance. Sam has to deal with emotional abuse from her stepmother, stepsisters, and the kids at school. How does she feel about this? What does she do with those feelings? And what about her father’s death? The film never goes beneath the surface. Worse, her father hands her a book of fairy tales and tells her, “Keep this. There are important things for you to learn there.” Although this book later reveals an important secret that changes Sam’s life, it’s clear that the only moral guidance Sam gets is from that book of fairy tales. How sad is that? No wonder her life – and the film – are vacuous.

Another negative message is that romance is the solution to all of our problems. This one has a twist of course – it’s not only romance, but education (i.e. getting into a good college) – which is good, but still highly unrealistic. 

All in all, “A Cinderella Story” is a big disappointment.
       
OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:   None, except stepmother may be sipping on an alcoholic drink as she sits beside the pool (not obvious).
  • Language/Profanity:   No obscenities but several characters take the Lord’s name in vain. Several “potty humor” jokes, including scene with someone passing gas under water.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Several scenes with kissing, sometimes passionate kissing (i.e. making out); one scene with implied (but now shown) nudity where the stepmother is in a tanning bed.
  • Violence:   Mostly slapstick violence, like the stepsisters fighting, kicking and hitting one another and getting battered in a carwash.