Friday, November 30

Enchanted. Yes I was.

If you ever believed in believing, Enchanted is a story so full of hope that you'll be glad you lost your magical thinking so that you can remember it fondly throughout this movie.

Great set-up and exposition

Plunging headlong from familiar fairy tales (principally Cinderella by way of The Princess Bride) Giselle (the perfect Amy Adams) meets her destined true love and Prince (James Marsden) and they pledge to marry tomorrow. But his mother is the evil Queen Narissa who'll lose her crown when her son, Prince Edward, marries.

Turning Grimm, the Queen lures Giselle to a deep well and pushes her to a fate worse than death – launched from a three-dimensional manhole in the 21st century Times Square. If that’s not shock enough, wait ‘til she sees the price of hotels! Giselle wanders the neighborhood looking for someone who’ll help her until she sees a billboard for a theme restaurant, The Prince’s Castle. She cannot understand why no one will answer the 2-D door. Enter our reluctant protagonist, Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey).

The set-up and exposition in which the audience learns who loves and hates whom among the cartoon characters breathlessly unfolds thanks to cultural memory. We all know Cinderella and a couple other rags to riches romances. As Rossio and Elliot sagely say, beware the story that no one knows. First the screenwriter has to educate the audience, then she has to tell the story, and together they take a lot of time.

The second act that won’t make you think about refilling that giant drink

The second act – so often, sigh – is the wasteland where story focus and entertainment die a slow unwatchable death. Not Enchanted. Though we have no doubt where the story is going, the obstacles facing Robert and Giselle, force their stories to converge. Robert tries to get rid of Giselle; she can’t resist teaching him how to win his girlfriend. But in a spectacularly winning scene, Giselle confronts Robert. He’s negative. Always. They shout “NO,” at each other until she realizes she’s angry, which of course means she’s in love. Thank you, Amy Adams, for single-handedly making that scene work. And that’s the midpoint, because what was two parallel stories about getting back to the status quo turns into a love story.

Drama swallowed by evil dragon in the third act

Things go off the rails when the wicked queen reappears in the third act. Seems like the real evil in the real world would be the burden of familiarity. But, no. The fairy tale evil for Robert and Giselle threatens in the form of the transformed Queen, now a giant lizard, namely Susan Sarandon. She returns to steal Robert from Giselle. Why? Evil, I suppose, but certainly not for reasons made clear in this CGI sequence.

Honestly, at this point, so little made sense about the final conflict that I completely lost interest. Some stuff happened: on a rainy rooftop, Giselle rescues Robert and slays the dragon, both nearly fall to their deaths, over which the Queen natters about the story. Seriously, wherefore this meta-comment rather than dialog directed at her victim. Why not dramatize? Okay, screenwriting is hard. I sympathize with the choices that led to these conclusions. Turning Giselle into the dragon-slayer is a nice touch. And they must live happily every after. Blame the director or CGI or the weak performance by Sarandon (was it just me, or was the terrific actress phoning it in?), but somebody let us all down.

Innocence is good

Finally, I want to praise the movie for it’s unapologetically wishful tone of possibility. We all have to lose our innocence, but this movie should make you nostalgic for it. Save those rotten tomatoes labeled “arrested development” aimed at me. I’ve praised Knocked Up and relished Team America: World Police. This thing is full of clever storytelling.

By setting the rules of the story in cartoon fairy tales, the demands of believability are reframed as “everything believable in childhood tales can happen here.” So when the incredible, but archetypal, characters are exiled to our world, we feel affection for Giselle while we question whether she can steer by her fairy tale compass. Buoyed up on this a good-hearted hoot, it’s worth a second thought at this time of year. It worked for Giselle. Maybe we can all try a little harder to believe in love, regardless the opposition.

No comments: