It's nice to be occasionally surprised by a film that gives you the unexpected. Is "A Cinderella Story" such a film? Hell no. And that's exactly the point – it isn't supposed to be. Considering the strict adherence to the rules of its genre, the film has enough to offer to its target audience (pre-teens, which form a lucrative age-group for marketers, now infamously referred to as Tweens). But for others who seek even an afternoon diversion, "A Cinderella Story" (and no prizes for guessing which fairytale it is a modern re-working of) is rarely copious.
Hillary Duff is Samantha, an orphaned teen who lives with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters and is forced to slave away at the family diner. But in the middle of all this drudgery, Samantha can still find the time to chat to her prince charming, Austin (Chad Michael Murray), who she has never met. Though both go to the same school, have the same aspirations and are inexplicably mature beyond their years, somehow their real personas can never quite click – yup, unless they are on the internet under different aliases. Then there's Samantha's best friend, the delightfully post-modern nerd, Carter (played with impeccable comic timing by Dan Byrd) who serves to remind us that despite her obvious spunk, Samantha is just a "diner girl." However, as if by fate or magic, the school's annual Halloween's party presents itself as an opportunity for Samantha to finally meet her Prince Charming. As expected, he doesn't learn about her identity and with the proverbial glass slipper in this case being Samantha's cell phone, Austin goes into search overdrive (why he couldn't just ask the phone company for the owner's home number is perhaps not be discussed). All this in the face of classic schmaltzy misunderstandings and Samantha's family torture in the form of evil stepmom (Jennifer Coolidge who you might better remember as Stifler's mom from the "American Pie" series) and stepsisters (the running gag about their likeness with media prima-donnas, The Olsen Twins, is well-received).
Although I saw every plot twist in "A Cinderella Story" coming a mile away; despite my cringing during several scenes where the sugary dialogues threatened to give me diabetes; and regardless of the been-there-done-that vibe that this film exuded from Act One, I still couldn't bring myself to hate it. And why would I? The film's intentions are clear – it is bubble-gum entertainment factory-made for an audience that is not supposed to discriminate. Is that underestimating our youth's intelligence? I don't think so. I would like to think that today's cinema going crowd – both young and old - have a pretty good understanding of what they want from a film. "A Cinderella Story" is probably not one of the better representations of what the pre/teen comedy genre has to offer; infact far from it. But why should we be prejudiced when the film successfully achieves (relative to its target audience) its primary goal of offering innocent recreation for ninety minutes with very little pretense? - Adnan Khan