In order to fully appreciate the myriad ways in which Kay Cannon has managed to create the most vacuously irritating version of the Cinderella tale in history, one must watch it. However, I wouldn't subject my worst enemy to this egregious drivel, so instead, please allow me to unpack and cheekily relish in some of the many regrettable achievements of Cinderella (2021), the ugliest of ugly step-sisters.
Firstly, I'm happy to admit that my general leeriness of jukebox musicals shouldn't automatically substitute for a statement on their quality, but by golly has this one worked extra hard to make sure it's nearly impossible to like. There is an incredibly jarring disconnect between what Cannon has chosen to modernise and what she has kept back in the 1800s. We open with an establishing scene in the village (that might as well be from Beauty and the Beast) set to a poxy cut of 'Rhythm Nation' accompanied by contemporary hip-hop choreography. Later on—in what can only be described as the least inspired song choice in jukebox musical history—when the prince decides to have a ball in order to find him somebody to love, they sing...you know what, never mind. Nicholas Galitzine has the unenviable task of wailing his way through this number, featuring several riffs that would set Freddie Mercury's teeth on edge (and that is no small feat).
On the subject of the atrocious vocal stylings, this is the paragraph I have decided to dedicate to the criminally inaccurate lip-synching. I have seen music videos with much lower budgets nail this aspect of production, and it is infuriating to see it consistently butchered by Hollywood. Many of the background extras are not even close and Camila Cabello (our fiesty Cinderella) moves her jaw so much during her vocal runs you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd interrupted her lunch break. As one of the primary music theatre stalwarts of the cast, Idina Menzel does a convincing job, and miraculously doesn't spend most of the time screaming at me, so I'm prepared to concede her contribution to the film is probably the best. That is, until she plays an impassioned, look-at-all-my-squandered-talent piano solo (on a harpsichord, but we've given up expecting historical accuracy at this point); she literally just assaults the keyboard with her whole hands and inexplicably produces music. Billy Porter does a decent enough job with some laughable (the bad kind) material but doesn't stick around long enough to make any lasting impact; when the film thankfully ends around what feels like three years later, I only remembered he had featured in it when his voice chirped up to orate one of the clunkiest epilogue voiceovers I've ever heard.
Almost all of the technical aspects of the on-screen live music-making are done poorly. The conductor cuts off the orchestra before they're finished playing. A trombonist continues to 'play' their instrument after the sound has finished. The wannabe-Hamilton town crier sequences are accompanied by a small ensemble of totally anachronistic instruments. A CELLIST PRODUCES LONG, BOWED NOTES BY STRUMMING WITH HER FINGERS. There is suspension of disbelief, and then there is simply wanton ignorance or disregard of any form of cohesion or authenticity within the genre of film you are professing to create. There is absolutely no need for this film to exist at all.
In the same way that one of life's biggest questions will always be, "why did Judi Dench agree to be in Cats?", I don't think I will ever understand what possessed the likes of Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan to be involved in this film, short of actually being possessed. It is so thoroughly undeserving of Driver's impeccable comic timing that it's almost unfair. Brosnan gets to yell a couple of funny lines and mercifully hardly sings at all, but I can only imagine the size of the paycheck that would have convinced them to attach themselves to this project. Even British funnymen Rob Beckett, James Acaster and Romesh Ranganathan, while perhaps understandably drawn by the opportunity, do themselves a disservice by being lowered to James Corden's level. Corden continues to cement his reputation as one of the most pervasively annoying performers working today by doing typically stupid things. I wish more film musical producers would wise up to the fact that his involvement makes films instantly worse.
To conclude with a continued connection to the aforementioned Cats, at least that atrocity had the audacity to be original. Every fumbled second of Cinderella (2021) reminds you that it has absolutely no idea who it's for, what it's doing or why it exists. There are some fleeting moments of dry, sarcastic and self-effacing humour that draw out some wry smiles, but they simply aren't frequent enough to save this film from the pit of despair (a reference to a far superior fairytale I wish I had watched for the hundredth time instead of wasting my life on this hack-job). I imagine Cannon thinks she has created something terribly clever, progressive and empowering—and she may well have—but it isn't this film.
Cinderella is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.