Directed by Andy Tennant. Starring Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott, Jeanne Moreau, Jeroen Krabbé, Patrick Godfrey, Megan Dodds, Melanie Lynskey, Timothy West, Judy Parfitt, Richard O'Brien. (1998, PG-13, 121 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 31, 1998
Legends of the screen, Barrymore and Huston, together for the first time… no, not the great Johns -- Barrymore and Huston -- not even Lionel Barrymore or Walter Huston. We're talking Drew and Anjelica, descendants of Hollywood legends, majesty in their own right. How appropriate it is that these two tackle another legend: the story of Cinderella. And not only do they revisit the centuries-old tale, their approach is nothing less than a re-animation of the story which turns the passive servant girl into a proactive heroine: She becomes a lowly charwoman who takes care of business instead of waiting for Prince Charming to supply the happy ending. And wonder of all wonders, the shoe fits -- not perfectly, mind you, there are some ungainly bunions and calluses that chafe against the glass slipper, but the fit is sufficiently graceful and reinvigorating to attract a new audience to keep company with it during this fresh stroll around the old stomping grounds. The tale is set in the 16th century and if there were any doubt as to the film's targeting of the same adolescent crowd that made William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet such a galloping success, just check out the diaphanous wings attached to the gown our Cinderella wears to the big ball and see if they don't remind you at all of the costume worn by Juliet to her big ball. In Ever After, Cinderella is cast as a French maiden by the name of Danielle (Barrymore), and we're introduced to her through a lagniappe of a wraparound story that stars Jeanne Moreau as the several-generations-removed descendant of Danielle, who has called the Grimm Brothers to her castle to set their storymaking straight. Realism supplants magic in this new version; gone are the pumpkins that turn into coaches and the mice that bippety-boppety-boo into coachmen. Indeed, the role of the fairy godmother is played here by Leonardo da Vinci (Godfrey) who, in a bit of a stretch, plays an enlightened third-party protagonist who uses logic instead of magic to help bring these two star-crossed kids together. Danielle, though circumstances have made her a servant in her own home, is a self-possessed lass -- articulate, well-read, and independent in thought and action. Her stepmother (played with delicious hauteur by Huston) is depicted less as an evil archetype than a venal woman of her times. The two stepsisters as well are played with delightful verve by Dodds and Lynskey (best known as Kate Winslet's sister in crime in Heavenly Creatures), and other charming characterizations are rendered by West and Parfitt as the king and queen and O'Brien as Danielle's scoundrelly suitor. Barrymore seems at heart too much of a “modern gal” to pull off the role of a 16th-century maiden with genuine believability, yet the whole of the piece also suffers frequent historical lapses. Still, the playful and well-meaning spirit of the film carries it through its shakier moments of awkward narration and inscrutably busy camerawork. Despite the unfortunately enfeebling, desaturated, excessively romantic, and downright cheesy look of its trailers, Ever After turns out to be a potent and imaginative retelling that proves Cinderella's timelessness defies carbon-dating.