Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Julie Walters, Hector Elizondo, Caroline Goodall, Heather Matarazzo, Robert Schwartzman, Mandy Moore, Larry Miller
Plot: The awkward girl (Hathaway) at high school finds out she is actually royalty when her estranged grandmother (Walters) reveals her princess heritage.
Of all the fantasy high school movies, the Princess Diaries could be onto a winner with such a gripping premise. Every teenager in school has dreamed of escaping the dull and sometimes quite horrible experiences of school and being whisked away to a more exotic lifestyle. Sometimes we just believe we are destined for greater things. Garry Marshall finds a novel with the most clear-cut narrative at delivering this concept of escapism with Meg Cabot’s book – a nerdy girl discovers she is actually a princess, plucking her straight out of her nightmarish teenage years.
Sadly, a strong story isn’t even half the battle. Garry Marshall needs to be able to land this story and, quite simply, he floats from mistake to mistake. The main problem with Princess Diaries is that it seems to cling too tightly to the cliched stereotypes of most high school movies. Anne Hathaway’s Mia is a cartoonish klutz girl, with garish eyebrows, horrendous hair and the social abilities of every teenage nerd rolled into one. On paper, it must have seemed quite funny, and perhaps even safe, to direct Hathaway in such a manner. However, for every time she messes up something as simple as crossing her legs or swinging a baseball bat, the movie loses that inch more of credibility. The thing with the princess story is that it is so fantastical in itself, the rest of the movie doesn’t need to meet it halfway. What would have been more powerful and relatable was to have the high school scenes grounded in some form of reality. The scenes would largely be the same with Mandy Moore playing the school bully, the dumb jock still being a source of misplaced love for Hathaway and a cutesy love story to send the film off, but they shouldn’t be played in such a comic book style. The audience wants to recognise elements in the film in their own lives, so the idea of being whisked away by a secret royal family feels achievable. Sadly, because Hathaway is asked to play the part so broadly, it impossible to envision ourselves in her position and therefore we feel like we are doing nothing more than watching a piece of popcorn cinema – the sensation of being rescued from high school still is out of our reach. This is a shame, because everything else the movie tries to achieve, never quite lives up to the expectation the director has of it. The love story, while boasting one of those iconic romantic kiss scenes, is surprisingly lifeless, Schwartzman one of the duller love interests in the high school genre. The training into a princess segments are sometimes worth a chuckle, but missing the promised punch. Even the good scenes would have been better if the rest of the movie was grounded. Imagine Larry Miller’s cameo as the make-over expert thrown into a more tongue-in-cheek movie.
The Princess Diaries is best described as that old-fashioned film from the noughties that earned cult status because of a few strong moments strung together. Julie Walters helps lift the bar, the most talented actress of the mix and somehow making her scenes feel like the comedy we should be watching. Hector Elizondo, the aide and security expert, is a clear fan favourite, his subtle performance a breath of fresh air in such an over-the-top production. Other actors worth complimenting: well, I guess the cat was good? Anne Hathaway sadly would do well to move on from this embarrassing part of her career. She has proven herself as a talented actress in future projects like Les Miserables and The Dark Knight Rises, but here, she symbolises that stock Hathaway role that has plagued her life as an actress – an out-of-fish odd job who eventually dominates her surroundings.
Final Verdict: This is a typical movie that was a lot better in your memory than in reality. Playing itself too cartoonishly, a winning idea falls down around the director’s ears.