For me, there's always been a problem at the heart of the classic Cinderella story: What woman, possessed of such heaven-sent footwear as the legendary glass slippers (or, heck, even Manolo Blahniks), would be so careless as to lose one? Wouldn't you guard those shoes with your life, leaving behind, oh, a business card or something instead?
"A Cinderella Story," Mark Rosman's contemporary update of the fairy tale, at least addresses this sticky situation. Here, Sam (Hilary Duff) flees the senior prom and her high-school-equivalent Prince Charming (Chad Michael Murray) as curfew approaches, leaving behind ... her cellphone, which is exactly the sort of thing that teenagers tend to leave behind. (Check any Nordstrom ladies' room and you'll see what I mean. But a stray shoe, especially a cute one? Never.)
Otherwise, I'd certainly rather have spent the 97 minutes of "A Cinderella Story" shoe shopping, as the movie brings nothing new to the well-known story. Sam, a sweet-faced blonde from the San Fernando Valley, is a high-school senior whose single father died many years ago. She lives with her nasty, over-Botoxed stepmother (Jennifer Coolidge) and slapsticky, synchronized-swimming-obsessed stepsisters (Madeline Zima, Andrea Avery), and she dreams of leaving them all behind when she goes off to college.
In between studying and working at her stepmother's diner, Sam's been instant-messaging a presumed hottie, not knowing that he's the school's star quarterback, Austin Ames. A meeting is arranged at the prom via e-mail, midnight approaches and ... well, if the original Cinderella were more up-to-date technically, this is probably how her story would have gone.
But there's not enough wit here to justify the effort. Coolidge, a potentially brilliant comedian (one of the funniest moments on film last year came in "A Mighty Wind" when she just hums, in an unclassifiable accent), has nothing to do but flounce around in too-tight costumes saying mean things to Sam. Leigh Dunlap's generic screenplay features lines like "You're not very pretty, and not very bright" that even Coolidge can't make sing. Duff is cute and chirpy; Murray is cute and bland, and the stepsisters squabble a lot. Ho-hum.
The grade-school girls who make up Duff's fan base may well be happy with this film; it's age-appropriate for preteens and is full of sweet-natured talk about believing in yourself. The rest of us will think longingly of "Mean Girls," "Clueless" and other more intelligent teen fare. And we'll wonder about the nature of a Valley Girl fairy tale. Sam, we're told, is miserably treated and forced to live in an attic room — and yet, she still has her own convertible. (This is all part of the bad treatment, apparently, because the convertible is kind of shabby.) Little girls, and their budget-conscious parents, should watch at their peril.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com