The newest in a long line of Cinderella adaptations, Amazon’s Cinderella (2021) prizes girlbossification above the very story it tries to adapt.
In this newest adaptation from Amazon, Camila Cabello stars as the titular character who wants not to dance with the prince, but to run her own business selling handmade dresses.
This idea is admirable, and maybe would’ve been entertaining and interesting to watch, had the motivations behind this movie not been so shallow and the execution so poor.
Let’s just get it out of the way first: the music is one of the worst things about this movie. This is a jukebox musical, which are notoriously difficult to pull off. Needless to say, Cinderella (2021) does not pull it off. Often, songs feel forced into the story for the sake of matching plotlines. Others are chosen simply because the filmmakers wanted to include them, such as Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” ravaged by the poor singing and music composition. A song that feels completely out of place is the inclusion of “Seven Nation Army,” inserted into the prince’s “battle” against a multitude of courting princesses. Other songs are too on the nose, like when the prince sings Queen’s “Somebody To Love” (and does a great disservice to it) or when the evil stepmother sings Madonna’s “Material Girl” to her daughters to convince them to marry rich. This felt like an injustice to both Madonna and Idina Menzel. Many of the actors singing the songs do not have very strong voices — to the detriment of those songs — particularly the two leads.
Camila Cabello was seemingly chosen for this role for her singing. While she is adequate, her voice is not very strong and neither is her acting. Both leads are mediocre actors, and the characters they play don’t help them. Cabello’s Cinderella is merely a tool for this film to further its girlboss agenda, so she never feels like a real, living person. And the prince comes off more as lazy and douche-y than rebellious and charming. While other actors may have been able to pull off the “love at first sight,” these two do not. The prince only falls in love with Cinderella because she challenges the status quo he hates (yet benefits from) and later pressures her to give into it anyway. He really uses Cinderella to get back at his father more than anything else, thus Cinderella becomes an object again within the film’s narrative. The pair have good chemistry in small moments, but it is confined to those small moments only.
This film includes an unbelievably star-studded cast — Broadway star Idina Menzel, icon Billy Porter, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, and artist and actress Beverly Knight — and manages to waste every single one of them. It’s quite a feat to behold. Idina Menzel and Billy Porter are particularly underutilized. Porter is a majestic presence onscreen. And in case you didn’t know, Billy Porter can sing. Damn, the man can sing. He releases a belt at the end of his song “Shining Star” that took my breath away. And then he’s gone. He’s only in the movie for less than ten minutes, and his character isn’t nearly as supportive of Cinderella as fairy godmothers usually are and should be. He can’t even make her glass shoes comfortable, because apparently “Women’s shoes are as they are.” But it’s magic! That’s the whole point! Anyway, it is a tragedy that Billy Porter is so underutilized. Why? More on that later.
As for Idina Menzel, despite the poorly written character she plays and the terrible songs she is made to sing, she often feels like the real star of this movie. She steals scenes instantly with her facial expressions and body language. Although she gets the modern Disney villain treatment with a sympathetic backstory, it's easy to sympathize with her. The scene in which she plays piano and cries from the catharsis it brings her was particularly compelling.
Every single woman in this film is a girlboss, from Cinderella herself (who turns down the prince to run her own business) to even the evil stepmother (who is given a sad backstory about wishing to play the piano professionally.) Each female hero, villain, and supporting player in between must be a girlboss to exist in this film. Take for instance, Queen Tatiana, a side character who shows up for a few mere moments to offer Cinderella a job as her personal designer immediately after seeing her dress (which happens unrealistically fast). As soon as she is introduced, she proudly states that she murdered the former king to take his crown, which somehow wins over Cinderella and is supposed to win us over, too. Seriously? Murder is the cheapest tactic this film uses to create a girlboss.
Ironically enough, this film reduces smart female leaders into the butt of the joke, such as Princess Gwen, the Prince’s little sister. In every single one of her scenes, she butts into her family’s conversations and suggests a different (obviously wise) political reform, then is immediately rebuffed. Although she is made Queen in the end (when it was obvious from the beginning that she would take the throne, given her brother’s rebelliousness nature), the film treats her so callously it’s almost as if it wasn’t really rooting for feminism the whole time. Let’s not forget the Queen, either, who’s big moment of feministic success after years of oppression is to cry “You’re wrong!” at her husband in front of the entire country, then proceed to sing “Let’s Get Loud.” Get it?
Although there is casual diversity among the commoners, royal band, and princesses courting the prince, Cinderella (2021) clearly panders to white feminism. People of color are relegated to supporting roles throughout the film. The white royals have their very own HBCU marching band, complete with a Black “town crier” who was clearly based on Hamilton’s rap style of singing. And the diverse gospel choir only exists to sing back-up to the white prince whenever he’s feeling emotional. Billy Porter is tragically underutilized, only appearing in one scene when the marketing pushed him as a central figure. Even so, why do movies keep using magical Black characters as props to support the white protagonist? Progress in centering Black characters in any story is still slow.
Unfortunately, even big dance numbers, casual diversity, and a ridiculously star-studded cast cannot save this film from its shallow messages, sidelining of POC characters, poor song choices, and mediocre singing and acting from its leads.