Ever After (review)

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Renaissance Woman

In a summer dominated on the screen by mega explosions, bad one-liners, and lousy acting — Armageddon, Godzilla, Small Soldiers — here finally is another flick that, along with The Mask of Zorro, genuinely deserves to be called a popcorn movie.

Ever After is a frothy delight — it’s a little bit Renaissance Festival, a little bit Monty Python, and a whole lotta fun. A feminist updating of the Cinderella fairy tale, it never hits you over the head with its attitude and never takes itself too seriously.
Our story takes place in 16th-century France, the kind of faux Renaissance setting where everyone is pretty clean and has nice teeth and there’s nary a rat to be seen (except the human type). Young Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is a wild and tomboyish lass, intelligent and spirited, reduced to general dogsbody and slave to her stepmother (Angelica Huston, vampy and campy) and stepsisters (Megan Dodds and Melanie Lynskey) — her widowed, landed-gentry father (Jeroen Krabbé) was barely home with his new family five minutes before he kicked off ten years earlier.

There’s the sort of shenanigans you’d expect from a Cinderella story, but with a bit of a twist. Danielle, no shrinking violet, is the instigator of all the action — it’s her spunk and courageousness that lead her to various encounters with Prince Henry (the delicious Dougray Scott), the spoiled and bored son of the king and queen of France (Timothy West and Judy Parfitt, who steal their scenes). In her common-serving-girl guise, she beans the prince in the head with an apple when she mistakes him for a horse thief, and disguised as a courtier (for reasons, contrary to what you might expect, that have nothing to do with courting the prince) she quotes Thomas More’s Utopia at him to prove he’s an elitist pig. Henry’s as much frog as prince, but he’s enchanted by a girl who actually reads, and unlike most traditional fairy tales, in which the hero awakens the heroine to a larger world, here it’s Danielle who opens Henry’s eyes and rouses him from his ennui.

In nice fairy-tale turnabout, Danielle takes the opportunity — the scene is unexpectedly hilarious — to rescue Henry from marauding gypsies. Yet when he rides to her rescue — she’s in the clutches of the wonderfully named rogue Pierre Le Pieu (Richard O’Brien, Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) — he finds that she’s used her skill with a sword and a dagger to rescue herself.

Ever After is most definitely a fairy tale for today — there are no pumpkins, no mice, no magic wands. And the fairy godmother part is played by a man of reason: Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), visiting the court of France and bumming around with Henry. A character that could have been merely an historical cameo actually has some meat to it — in fairy-godmother fashion, Leonardo prods Henry toward Danielle when his elitism rears its ugly head and ingeniously helps Danielle in preparing for the big ball.

Ever After is frolicking and fun, funny and romantic — a perfect summer popcorn flick.

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