Let’s face it. You don’t watch a movie called Another Cinderella Story for innovation and compelling drama. As its title indicates, the teen rom-com isn’t a sequel to 2004’s A Cinderella Story, itself a creatively challenged piece of fluff, so much as a remake with untested young stars and inferior production values. It’s sort of like Teen Wolf Too (1987) minus the cute play on words, though the film’s openly derivative nature isn’t its biggest problem.
See if you can spot the major thematic inconsistency. Another Cinderella Story stars up-and-coming pop singer Selena Gomez as Mary (was the name Cindy taken?), who, in the frustratingly brief opening number, daydreams of being a pop singer, much to the displeasure of her foster mother, Dominique (Jane Lynch), a has-been pop singer desperate to record with pop singer du jour Joey Parker, played by Canadian pop singer Drew Seeley. Mary, of course, falls in love with the teen pop singer, who then helps her achieve her life-long goal of becoming a pop… Dancer.
It’s as if the movie had been retooled to oblivion by a pack of micromanaging producers taking turns exclaiming, “Hey, you know what’s popular lately? Add more of that. I’m a genius!” This must have presented quite a challenge for the screenwriters, given the intrinsic limitations of the “Cinderella” premise, but give Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott credit for finding new, convoluted ways of shoehorning dance into the plot. My favourite is when the heroine wins an important dance competition by singing a duet with the host.
It’s too bad, really. The film would have made a modest but sensible vehicle for newcomer Gomez, who’s a competent singer (her range is somewhat limited, but I like her phrasing) as well as a promising comedian. Consider her subtle reaction when a drunken Dominique collapses off her lap, the way she elevates the scene’s cheap slapstick with a quiet, suggestive smile. Also consider how little she dances, the way her double, who incidentally looks nothing like her, lights up the stage in between close-ups of her moving with about half the grace and conviction.
At least the male lead’s got moves. His arsenal also includes a solid voice, boyish good looks, and a stylist who knows his fans have just now hit puberty. He’s no Zac Efron, of course, but then few people are. Actually, my issue with Seeley is I spent most of the film wanting to punch him in the face. Part of it is the fact Joey isn’t a character so much as a morbidly superficial ideal: he’s successful; he likes Mary; and that’s pretty much all there is to him. Part of it is the young thespian’s inability to convey anything other than extreme smugness. I’ll give Seeley the benefit of the doubt and assume he was aiming for confidence and grossly overshot.
Mind you, he’s far from the most irritating presence in Another Cinderella Story. That honour goes to Dustin (Marcus T. Paulk), Joey’s goofy sidekick who, being African American, uses colourful vernaculars, raps whenever near a microphone, and dedicates every moment of his existence to pleasing his white companion. Mary also has a token black friend (Jessica Parker Kennedy), but she at least pretends to have ambitions of her own. Take a wild guess with whom the girl ends up. Maybe the two bonded over the irony of denigrating the very demographic they were meant to target.
In fairness, none of the supporting characters carry much weight beyond their stereotypes. Take, for example, Dominique’s two wicked daughters, who insist on competing with Mary in spite of having no clear motivation or discernible trait besides dumb and ugly. If Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins’ excruciating performances are any indication, the average werewolf has more humanity than these brats. Also consider their snotty schoolmate Natalia (Nicole LaPlaca), whose villainy is so superfluous she keeps wandering in and out of the story without anyone noticing.
Mary is equally problematic as a protagonist. She starts off plucky, sneaking into dance classes to sharpen her skills and have weird choreography sex with Joey (seriously, the scene belongs in a different movie), but then caves at the first sign of adversity. No date for the ball: Mary gives up. An embarrassing video surfaces: Mary gives up. A contest that could change her life forever is emceed by someone she doesn’t like: Mary pouts and refuses to even try out. As the credits rolled, I was left with the depressing realisation the would-be heroine never once took control of her own life. Quite the role model, isn’t she?
These young actors, especially the female lead, deserve better material, as do all the kids likely to watch Another Cinderella Story. Now, I’m not suggesting every Hollywood production should be thought-provoking art, but this really is drivel, the sort of vapid pandering you’d expect from a Mini Pop Kids commercial. That reminds me: to promote the film, Seeley and Gomez released a single called New Classic. Is it just me, or does that read like the title of a soft drink jingle?