Tuesday 31 March 2015

Review: Cinderella

Year: 2015
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Chris Weitz
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter

Synopsis is here:

To paraphrase from another, well-loved Disney adaptation, this is a tale as old as time. This 2015 version of Cinderella is a live action take on the Disney telling of the well-known story. Despite the director’s talk of subversion, this film’s rebellion takes its form in actually being part of the status quo. Disney’s original take was made in 1950 and this version seeks to reiterate what was said before. The idea seems to be that Cinderella’s traditional approach should be able to stand tall against the more progressive themes of the likes of Frozen.

There’s been some interesting think pieces which have been quick to pick up on the film’s lack of progression. I do believe there is an importance to this, considering just how influential and successful the Frozen juggernaut has become.       

To have Tasha Robinson question the passive nature of the film is understandable. I do the same with the likes of Harry Potter or Twilight. Yet the hostility and tone towards being nice and awaiting princes at a film which is trying to be as earnest as possible about the idea of being nice is more than a little strange when we are looking at a film which is being targeted at those who are still in single digits. I’m not the biggest fan of some of the subject matter that appears within the film. Yet if I have a kid, I know I can argue my case with them. I remember my parents taking me to Sunday school, but I also remember them informing me of other religions. The same thing applies, I feel.  

I’m more worried about how much of this fairy tale fluff finds its way into more adult fare. When the likes of Bridget Jones and Sex in the City try and maintain such ideals when we have built discerning tastes and should know better than in a bland simple fantasy. One of the reasons I tend to stay away from writing about films aimed squarely at kids is due to how jaded we as adults can be towards such material as Cinderella. While I do feel that in our modern age, it would have been more interesting to have seen a female writer/director take the reign of the project in terms of agency, we are now expecting subversion in films which are clearly set up to try and deflect the cynicism we endure throughout our day to day life? I don't write to offer all the answers, but I do wonder how many kids would read such writing and raise an eyebrow.

I think my issue is that no matter how traditional this film plays things, it is still in essence a kids' piece. I do feel, however despite my previous mansplaning in the above paragraphs, I must admit that Branagh’s feature is a bland one. The film’s casting and art design show that the production had finance to burn, and it all finds its way to the screen. Kudos must go out to Customer designer Sandy Powell and production designer Dante Ferretti (a Scorsese regular) for the building of the world. We also must thank Cate Blanchett for giving the world some energy. Unfortunately Downton Abbey’s Lily James’ breathy performance and Game of Throne’s Richard Madden’s toothy charm evaporate pretty quickly. Meanwhile Branagh does little to stir the pot emotionally or visually to make the film any more the sum of its parts.

The film’s robust box office earnings suggests that we still live in a world where pot stirring isn’t the way to go. Despite feminist criticisms and my own indifference, Cinderella offers a similar stance to Fifty Shades of Grey. The subject can be questioned and yet the desires for the fantasy still remains. As bland as I may find this film as a piece of entertainment – and believe me it really doesn’t go anywhere - I do feel that Disney’s shrewdness has paid off, and not just because there is a Frozen animated short played in front of the main feature. Although having that short in front gives the target audience a powerful characteristic: The right to choose.