The Princess Diaries



USA 2001
director : Garry Marshall
script : Gina Wendkos (based on novel by Meg Cabot)
producers include : Whitney Houston
cinematography : Karl Walter
editing : Bruce Green
music : John Debney
lead actors : Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Heather Matarazzo, Caroline Goodall
114 minutes

If you’re a 10-year-old girl, Princess Diaries will probably be your film of the year – perhaps even the decade. If you’re outside the narrow target audience, however, look elsewhere. Unless you find the idea of a kiddie-oriented cross between Miss Congeniality and King Ralph appealing.

This latest rehash of the Pygmalion myth sees gawky, mop-haired, bespectacled San Francisco high-schooler Mia (Hathaway) finding out she’s the heir to a minor European throne. Her grandmother, Queen Clarisse (Andrews), explains that unless the ‘princess’ embraces her royal duty, her family will lose their right to the succession. Cue the familiar ugly-goose-into-beautiful-swan routine, plus the well-worn low comedy of the clumsy outsider wreaking havoc at a formal dinner, etc. etc.

It isn’t exactly the most intriguing premise for a movie, and in the careful hands of director Marshall and and scriptwriter Wendkos it doesn’t really go anywhere, either, seldom developing much in the way of momentum or interest. This makes for a very long two hours, unless you read it as an critique of how supposedly hyper-democratic Americans can be dazzled by the profoundly un-democratic systems of old-style European monarchies. There never seems to be any possibility, for instance, that ‘Genovia’ might actually dare to give its subjects any say in who rules them. But these probably weren’t director Marshall’s primary concerns, of course.

He’s more interested in grooming Hathaway to follow in the footsteps of his Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts – the newcomer could easily pass for Roberts’ younger sister, and she’s appealing enough given the thin material. But her blandness contrasts sharply with Matarazzo, sour-faced teen veteran of Welcome to the Dollhouse, who works wonders with the underwritten role of Mia’s best pal. Never mind ‘comeback queen’ Andrews, stuck on grande-dame autopilot – it’s the caustic Matarazzo who single-handedly prevents Princess Diaries from becoming a royal pain in the ass.

18th October, 2001
(seen 6-Oct-01, UGC Parrs Wood, Manchester)

by Neil Young
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