If some films are made to order, the market-researched A Cinderella Story has the stretch marks to prove it. Somewhere in the arid San Fernando Valley, Sam (Hilary Duff) is at the beck and call of her onerous stepmother, Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge, so way past her expiration date it’s about time someone had her stuffed), a monster who firmly believes that “droughts are for poor people.” At a Halloween dance, Duff’s anonymous ugly duckling discovers that her cyber paramour of five months is the ostensibly superficial captain of the football team, Austin (Chad Michael Murray), but she continues “waiting for the rain” instead of embracing romance. This myopic story is essentially a feature-length version of Duff’s “Come Clean” song, and though it pretends to be concerned with individual identity, in reality it’s only interested in pandering to a tween audience’s petty notions of morality and obsessions with physical beauty. Because burdening Duff with a boy who’s less than Tiger Beat material is soooo not cool, it’s only natural that Austin is both attractive and tortured inside. The jokes all range from the obnoxious to the thoroughly embarrassing (“I need to use the litter box,” says one of Sam’s stepsisters while dressed as a Siamese cat), and every actor in the film gets their own gender-defined role, but in the case of Regina King’s fairy godmother (referred to at one point as Betty Crocker, not the more apt Aunt Jemima), the filmmakers seemingly use race to further inflate Sam’s capacity for kindness. (Proving that you can indeed take it with you, Sam rewards her Mamie with a cushy job at her deceased father’s diner, but not before rewarding herself for her years of servitude to Coolidge’s cruel slave master.) Cinderella Story neither strains for logic nor romance (the film borrows a CGI droplet—in this case rain and not an actual tear—from The Passion of the Christ and updates Cinderella’s glass slipper as a cellphone), but it’s every bit as retrograde as its fairy tale of origin. A work of thoroughly elitist proportions, this vanity project affords Sam both a Prince Charming and a free ride to Princeton. God, it’s so great being Hilary Duff!
- Mark Rosman
- Leigh Dunlap
- Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge, Chad Michael Murray, Dan Byrd, Regina King, Julie Gonzalo, Lin Shaye, Madeline Zima, Andrea Avery, Mary Pat Gleason, Paul Rodriguez, Whip Hubley, Kevin Kilner
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