Cinderella, 2021, Directed by Kay Cannon, 1/5 Stars
Effectively and thoughtfully putting a modern, progressive twist on the classic tale of “Cinderella” isn’t impossible. While the original story is marked with the gender politics at the time of its inception, it seems plausible, even logical, to retell “Cinderella” in way that gives the titular character a more powerful, active role in her own journey. Kay Cannon’s Cinderella, the latest cinematic version of the folk tale, is no such retelling. While it takes big swings at incorporating contemporary feminist ideas, the film’s script does not hold up under the slightest scrutiny, and poor performances, production values and lack of nuance solidify the Amazon original as a truly depressing and forgettable attempt at storytelling.
In her acting debut, singer Camila Cabello takes on the titular role. To put it gently, Cabello’s acting feels a little empty. She largely seems unenthused by anything happening around her, even at the emotional climax of the story. On a few occasions, she stumbles over her lines and her dialogue becomes inaudible. While Cabello’s performance leaves much to be desired, some of her more embarrassing moments can likely be blamed on the production’s poor planning and limited amount of takes due to time constraints. This is evident throughout, especially during musical numbers. Even a famously talented and classically trained singer like Idina Menzel, who plays Cinderella’s evil stepmother, has some strikingly out-of-tune moments, the only logical explanation being that she had insufficient time with the production crew to perfect her rendering of the songs.
It doesn’t help that the movie is what’s known as a “jukebox” musical, with songs from popular culture seemingly being chosen based on their titles and no other criteria. The opening number is “Rhythm Nation” because the townspeople work in a rhythm, but little to none of the other lyrics in the song apply, nor does the key of the song fit the vocal register of many of the actors. Even the one original song, “Perfect,” written by Cabello, is lyrically vague and tonally flat, as if written to be a generic radio hit rather than an emotional musical moment for the film.
One of the most strikingly heinous features of the film is its production design and what appear to be low production values. Costumes are ill fitting, lighting is garish and blinding and visual effects are distractingly bad, with digital characters and green screen almost akin to a video game from the early 1990s. The costuming and set design clearly try to combine modern trends with more historical garb and environments, but the cast ends up looking like people cosplaying characters from a better movie.
The true folly of the film, though, what moves this version of “Cinderella” from being twee and annoying to being truly heinous, is its writing. Its feminist themes are incredibly ham fisted, no characters interact naturally and any attempts at humor are cringe-worthy at best. The script attempts to give Cinderella more agency through her dreams of being a fashion designer, but never fleshes her out further, leaving her just as underdeveloped and poorly written as any other past version of the character.
While it was perhaps made with the best intentions, Amazon and Kay Cannon’s 2021 Cinderella is best left forgotten in the depths of the endlessly growing streaming catalog.