Ella Enchanted (review)

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What the Frell

I’m sure every movie critic gets this at some point: “How can you sit through all the crap?” I can’t speak for all critics, obviously, but for me, even the crap is fun. A bad day at the movies is better than a good day doing almost anything else.

There are movies that try that dictum, though, and Ella Enchanted is one of them.
It would be enough to make a thinking gal want to scream if this were merely the latest example of that new genre of retro girl fantasies about falling in love with princes and/or discovering one is royalty, if it were just one more installment in the overarching neoconservative fairy tale we’re filling girls heads with these days. But no. Ella also wants to be funny, and if there’s anything more squirm-inducing than a comedy that isn’t funny, it’s a lighthearted romp through a pseudo medieval magical realm with hip contemporary sass that’s as buoyant as the Titanic, post-iceberg, and as spirited as a TV commercial for incontinence products.

Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, just thinking about it now gives me the heebie-jeebies. Every single attempt at levity or whimsy not only fails but actually melts down with a rancid nuclear tinge. From ogres with serious buttcrack to an elf who wants to be a lawyer, from fan clubs for cute princes to Ye Old Galleria — the medieval mall, natch — each “joke” is worse than the last. It’s like The Princess Bride done up Flintstones style, where every modern convenience, like escalators and nursing homes, has a pseudo medieval magical analog. Oh, and with Matrixstyle hand-to-hand combat thrown in, just for fun. I’m almost tempted to tell you to go see it, because even if I say something like “This is one of the very worst movies I’ve ever seen,” you still won’t even be able to begin to imagine how wrongheaded it all is, how your jaw will just start dropping and won’t stop, how you’ll wonder who’s got photographs of whom doing what that allowed for the blackmail that is the only way to explain how this most misbegotten of movies got produced.

Oh, and it’s so dumb! Ella (Anne Hathaway: The Other Side of Heaven, The Princess Diaries) was cursed at birth with the “gift” of obedience, and now, when ordered to do even the stupidest thing, she has no choice but to thrust her chest out — to indicate compulsion, perhaps, or that her bra is too tight — and comply. And every time this happens, there’s a twinkling of “magic” music, in case you didn’t get that it’s, you know, magic that causes Ella to, say, stick her tongue out and grab it with her fingers when someone who wants her to be quiet tells her to hold her tongue. Except when the magical compulsion and chest thrusting is accompanied by a refrain from ELO’s “Strange Magic” (done up in a cover version that sounds identical to the original). And even though Ella behaves really weirdly like this all the time and walks around with her own theme music and audible magical twinkling, no one catches on to her secret — for secret it is, known only to Ella and her nursemaid (Minnie Driver, in a performance of such stupendous awfulness that it would kill her career if it weren’t dead already) — except her new evil, stupid stepsisters, who figure it out within moments of meeting Ella and put it to all sorts of evil stepsistery use.

So Ella — Ella of Frell — journeys out into the land of Frell in a search for a way to break this curse on herself, and thank God I could be momentarily distracted every few minutes by the coincidence of “frell” being the fake bit of profanity they used on Farscape as a substitute for our own very naught f-word. I would amuse myself by thinking, say, How the frell could my perpetual boyfriend Cary Elwes (The Cat’s Meow, Shadow of the Vampire) be debasing himself here as the evil prince?

But that was when I wasn’t thinking about all the ways in which I’d use my own evil stepcritic powers to boss Ella around. Like: Ella, go soak your head, you medieval twit.

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