Tonight we went to see the new Cinderella movie. I have a few thoughts that may contain spoilers. But first, costumes.
There were many beautifully detailed costumes to be had. Lush, and vibrant, and full of character! Unfortunately, this is almost exclusively found on Lady Tremaine and her daughters. I loved the detailing that, yes, many many of their gowns gaudy, but the skill in their assembly is unmistakable. The step-sister always wore gowns identical in design, different in color, yet the pattern placements matched each other. This is a fine detail easy to miss unless you looked. If you see the movie, pay attention. Look at their first gowns with the polka dots. Notice the placement, and how they may as well be the same gown, duplicated, and recolored.
Lady Temaine’s gowns were the real show-stoppers. All silk and sequins and beads! The silk duchesse was marvelously manipulated into exaggerated shapes reminiscent of the 1950’s. She had so many gowns that I wished I could pause the screen and stare at the all for several minutes. Rarely as one on screen at all for more than even a few minutes of time. Such a shame. Toss on her hats and her stunning hair, and wow. Just wow.
Fairy Godmother was perfectly whimsical. Gossamer froth and magical sparkle and fluff abounded in her gown! She both managed to look like a sweet, angelic fairy, and like a fairy you wouldn’t want to tick off on her bad day. Helena Bonham Carter had to do with that. It would have been easy for such a massive and detailed gown to look overpowering and like it was wearing the person, yet she commanded the screen with ease.
Now Ella… I will admit I’m disappointed. If you know any version of Cinderella from the last century, then you won’t have anything spoiled here.
Before her father died (was that a spoiler?), they were wealthy. Yet the very first gown we see her wearing, as an adult, is a fairly simple blue cotton gown. It wasn’t a lady’s gown, yet it’s clear they weren’t into ostentatious displays of wealth via overly elaborate clothing. We briefly see her in a pretty simple, yet sweet, pink gown that Lady Tremaine and her daughters rip. This is the live-action spin on the scene from the animated movie. We see her in the blue ballgown, of course, which, while very pretty, is really a rather basic ballgown. The difficulty lies in knowing how to handle 3mm open-weave silk, and how to deal with so many yards. We also see her in her wedding gown.
Now four gowns seems like a lot, yet really it’s not. “I want to go to the ball too,” the ball, and the wedding, all have their own gowns. Every other scene with her, whether it’s before her dad dies or when the prince finds her, she is wearing the blue cotton. Worse, the blue cotton never showed signs of being worn, despite being a gown worn day in, day out.
Even the prince, the richest character in the movie, had bizarrely simple attire, and only a couple outfits he wore. No, not just similar cut or identical embroidery, but the exact same outfit more than once.
The re-wearing wouldn’t be so notable if Lady Tremaine and her daughters didn’t have new, very elaborate costumes for every single scene they were in. If they had worn the same gowns a few times each, such as the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent and her daughters in the Drew Barrymore-staring adaptation, Ever After, this would be a touch of realism, and make the repeated ensembles of the wealthiest characters something to overlook. However, fairytales aren’t about realism, yet being a fairytale isn’t enough to explain away even a prince wearing the few couple outfits for his many scenes.
What is seems happened is that Sandy Powell found a passion for the flamboyant gowns of Lady Tremaine and her daughters, but it didn’t quite extend to the other characters. It’s fine for a designer to have a niche in which they excel, and another niche that isn’t as great, as long as they acknowledge it and seek outside source when needed. Since male garb and the types of gowns Cinderella would wear aren’t part of the whimsical set that Powell so clearly breathes, I do not believe that Ella’s gowns were all they could have been, and really, the one blue gowns he kept wearing and wearing and wearing never, ever taking on a distressed look is not excusable, even in a fairy tale.
Now I’m not saying the gowns aren’t beautiful anyway. I’d personally wear them, and I’ve already made one for my daughter. I’m just saying that they fall short of their potential. A gathered skirt and corset bodice with gathered organza and butterflies isn’t quite the show-stopper, and I think that a lot of the hype around it is why so many people are falling all over themselves. It’s easy to get swept up in hype. It can even be fun. But this gown is missing some oomph, the details that can be bold or sub that bring more to a gown the more you stare at it. The step-sisters’ ball gowns were magnificent and outrageous, and each time you looked at them, there was more to take in. This “more” can be subtle detail, yet it’s lacking from Ella’s ballgown.
That said, the two complaints I’ve read about this movie are things I must disagree with. One is that Lady Tremaine is an ineffectual villain. Nope. Not at all. Some of her words were so cruel that they made me uncomfortable. There was no liking her. She’s a character you’ll want to smack several times, even if you’re not the slapping sort. Yet she also managed to make you pity her when you find out what she’s lost in her life, and why Ella’s youth and innocence make her so envious, and why Ella’s presence is so hard for her to bear. It’s not an excuse, yet it does add depth to the character. The last view of her left me wanting to know more about her story, and what happens after the film ends.
The other complaint is that Ella is just a girl looking for a prince to rescue her, and so isn’t a story that should be remade today. **Spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph.** This is incorrect. When she first met the prince, she had no idea who he was. They were in the forrest, and she interrupted his hunt. He misled her to believe he was a commoner, an apprentice under his father (technically the truth) named Kit (also technically true as his father gave him this nickname). When the ball rolled around, Ella wanted to go to see if she could find that commoner, and she was stunned to find he was really the prince. She wasn’t looking for a savior. She was looking for someone to love, and who would love her, the exact same thing that drives most of us to want significant others. Rather than being forced to stay home, she chose to, despite the abuses, since that was her parents’ home, and she wanted to remain there to love it the way her parents loved it. She had the ability to leave, and the skills to earn a living, but wanted to love her home. Looking for a prince to save her? No!
Now a couple other things I liked *more spoilers* is that the movie made a nod to the Broadway production and the Ben Stevenson ballet by having Fairy Godmother pose as a beggar woman looking for kindness as a test of sorts before revealing herself to be a powerful Fairy Godmother, and that, rather than the king (his dad died, making the prince the king) declaring that he would marry the woman he sought, the proclamation was if she so consents to marriage, the king would like her hand. It was a request, a proposal rather than deciding for her.
All in all, this movie did blow away my expectations, all except for Ella’s and the prince’s costuming. I can overlook those things, for the most part, for how touching the rest of the movie was. I am planning to see this movie again, very, very soon. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and, since I’m a lifelong Cinderella fan, you can bet I was expecting it to lose what’s so magical about the story. It doesn’t. It magnifies that magic.