There are some films whose charm cannot be explained by reference to any special element in them.
There is nothing particularly daring, novel or clever about A Cinderella Story. It is exactly what one would expect from a version of the Cinderella story told as a contemporary teen movie. But it's more fun than many mainstream films.
The closest thing to a jewel in this crown is the rising teen star Hilary Duff. It is easy for an uninitiated, post-teen viewer to confuse her with Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls ), since both possess the same perky, innocent aura. And both tend to be cast in tales where they are sensitive outsiders in a high school milieu, set apart by virtue of their unconventional family backgrounds.
Duff is Sam, the Cinderella figure, whose life is made a daily, backbreaking misery by her wicked stepmother Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge) and two klutzy but cruel stepsisters, Brianna (Madeline Zima) and Gabriella (Andrea Avery). Sam dreams of better things, however – especially the hunky Austin (Chad Michael Murray).
Director Mark Rosman and writer Leigh Dunlap wisely keep the tendency to camp it up under strict control. They unleash such humour only when Fiona appears – each new addition of cosmetic surgery more outrageous than the last.
Generally, proceedings are kept sweet and daggy. It is particularly pleasing to watch Austin squirm as he navigates his path from conformism to emotional authenticity. Sam, on the other hand, always has her values straight: after all, she inherited them directly from her dear, dead Dad.
MORE Cinderella: The Princess Diaries 2
© Adrian Martin October 2004