For that subspecies of journalism that praises actors for what they wear on the red carpet, Australian actress Cate Blanchett is a fashion icon -- a new Dovima, no less. But Kenneth Branagh, director of the new Disney live-action version of Cinderella, is no Richard Avedon. Branagh cannot turn Blanchett's melodramatic posturing into chic. She looks like she walked into a non-drag bar under the mistaken impression it was Halloween.
Catty enough? You'd be in a bad mood, too, after suffering boredom at Rob Marshall's film version of Into the Woods, the painful musical that included Cinderella in its fairytale deconstruction. To be honest, Disney's Cinderella is a far more watchable movie. Unfortunately, at its center is one of those late-Disney Corporation stunts designed to placate future Gay Day visitors to Disneyland and Disney World and further the company's politically correct recognition of blended families and social diversity.
That's all well and good, but there's nothing honorable when Disney's coy nod to sexual ambiguity and androgyny is as mistaken and unappealing as Blanchett once again being annoyingly actressy. The voice-over narrator's compliment "She too had known grief but she wore it wonderfully well" just sounds like a Red Carpet reporter sucking-up.
Branagh keeps the film focused on Cinderella's plight (Lily James portrays the young girl orphaned by her parents' death who endures torment from her greedy, selfish stepmother and silly stepsisters) but the basic beautiful tale, which through the years rewards innocent virtue, is derailed every time Blanchett struts on screen with visions of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in her head.
Blanchett doesn't sashay; she's too dull for camp gestures. She plays Evil Stepmother as humorlessly as her Kate Hepburn and Bob Dylan stunts. Blanchett continues that bizarre Disney tradition where the animated films from baby boomers' childhoods are cynically remade. It started with Glenn Close playing Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmations and most recently Angelina Jolie in Maleficent. But turning sourpuss actresses into drag queen gorgons is too close to Disney's pre-enlightenment homophobia, like, shall we say, the "effeminate" villains and freaks: Scar in The Lion King and Genie in Aladdin.
No matter how much Britishy elocution Blanchett fakes in the role, her Evil Stepmother distracts from the "courage and kindness" (lessons bequeathed to Cinderella by her late parents) that the film purports to extol. The fun of drag--unleashing the stylish, shade-throwing, no-bullshit bitch underneath everyone's well-bred decorum--runs counter to the equally powerful lesson of true love and faithfulness that has made the Cinderella story endure.
It may seem anathema to reject Into the Woods for revising fairytale lore into a pessimistic vision of the modern world, but a greater truth is lost when, after Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, Disney Sondheimizes its own reputation. It abuses the back catalog of animated features (Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty--even a Tim Burton Dumbo is the most recent threat) just to make the company's shameless exploitation of its assets profitable, meanwhile betraying the trust of parents and babysitting moviegoers everywhere.
Gay viewers should be especially miffed that this new Cinderella underwhelms as romantic fantasy. Richard Madden as the Prince who searches the kingdom with a single glass slipper and Helena Bonham Carter as a smiley but too-dotty Fairy Godmother (introducing herself as "a hairy Godfather" in the film's only successful stab at campiness) are less than dream archetypes.
Lily James's Cinderella has her best moment when she twirls around as Bonham Carter turns her outdated pink dress into a flowing sapphire ball gown, James's arm-raised stylish ecstasy resembles the ultimate fashion model fantasy. James evokes Tilda Swinton's memorable wedding dress paroxysm in Derek Jarman's The Last of England, an ultimate example of style and emotion. Not so Blanchett who frowns, scowls and vamps; she's like a losing contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race who is laughably dressed in sorta-haute couture but does "runway for her life" as if going to pick up another undeserved Oscar.
Cinderella opens in theaters March 13. Watch the trailer below: