Movie Review: The Princess Diaries
It's noteworthy that the family-friendly Disney film "The Princess Diaries" manages to wring some originality out of its fairy-tale plot. This freshness compensates for the expected hackneyed qualities in this Cinderella tale about an ordinary teen-age girl who becomes royalty thanks to the not-so-gentle persuasion of none other than the original Eliza Doolittle herself, Julie Andrews, whose winning performance in "The Princess Diaries" kicks the class quotient up several notches.
Anne Hathaway is 15-year-old Mia, her specs and electroshock hair substituting for a neon sign reading "misfit." Living in a funky San Francisco house with her artist mother (Caroline Goddall), Mia endures the usual tribulations of high school she's a klutz, and she's ignored by the popular set. But she has a huge safety net in her best friend, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo), the kind of too-cool-for-this-school outsider rarely played by girls in teen comedies. Lilly is a wound-up dynamo just waiting to be unleashed on the post-adolescent world.
"The Princess Diaries" hits its mark with this central buddy relationship, the strength of which allows Mia to figure out her destiny. That destiny is to rule the tiny country of Genovia, famous, we're told, for its pears. It is presided over with panache by Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Andrews), Mia's grandmother, who descends on San Francisco with the news that Mia is actually a princess and that now, with the death of Mia's father, Mia ought to get a makeover and leave her old life behind.
Led by the formidable Andrews, all of the supporting players in "The Princess Diaries" are surprisingly multidimensional and help to overcome the shopworn elements of the story. In addition to Mia's likable ex-hippie mom, there's Joe (Hector Elizondo), the wizened limo driver and assistant to Queen Clarisse. When Elizondo and Andrews glide across the floor in a spontaneous tango, it's a sexier scene than adults are likely to find in most other summer movies.
Director Garry Marshall is an old hand at fairy-tale fantasy: His "Pretty Woman" twinkled with the dubious message that even hookers can be princesses if the customer/prince is Richard Gere. In "The Princess Diaries," it is the throne's promise of power, responsibility and self-reliance that's dangled as the reward. That a geeky teen girl would want a little of that isn't a glittery fairy tale; it's a revenge fantasy.