, Anjelica Huston, Dougray Scott
Once upon a time, a clever movie director decided to remake the classic Cinderella tale as a period piece set in 16th-century France (and shoot it on location in a magnificent chateau) but goosed the story by giving it an unmistakably contemporary feminist spin. Out went the pumpkin carriage and the white mice who drew it; in came references to public education and the rights of servants. He cast Barrymore as the well-read, populist-minded Cinderella, Huston as her supercilious stepmom and Scott, a dashing Scottish-born actor, as the somewhat priggish prince who needs to be taken down a peg or two by Cinderella before he can truly be considered husband material.
Fortunately for moviegoers this tale ends happily. The director is Andy Tennant (whose previous films were the markedly uninspired It Takes Two with the Olsen twins and Fools Rush In with Matthew Perry), and his revisionist Cinderella tale, Ever After, is one of the unexpected delights of the summer. Tennant, who cowrote the screenplay for this romantic comedy with Susannah Grant and Rick Parks, retains the bare bones of the Cinderella story while ingeniously plumping up the back story for each of the characters. The prince, for example, first meets Cinderella while on the run from an arranged marriage to a Spanish princess. The orphaned Cinderella remains with her stepmother because she keeps hoping the woman will actually express maternal feeling for her. And Cinderella's fairy godmother is—hold on to your paintbrush—Leonardo da Vinci, who is hanging about doing some artwork for the prince's father.
Barrymore is delectable, switching back and forth between fierce displays of temper and blushing uncertainty. Scott makes a manly prince, and Huston comically conveys the stepmother's waspish cunning but also her emotional longing. And the supporting cast is strong, particularly Judy Parfitt as the prince's mom and Melanie Lynskey as the sweeter of the two stepsisters. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: In this pleasingly light confection, Cinderella grows up and discovers she can still have a happy ending