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Princess Diaries, The

A 15-year-old girl from California learns she is the sole heir to the throne of the European country Genovia. By her 16th birthday she must decide whether to rule the small country or continue her normal life as a dorky American teen.

Story

Anne Hathaway plays the role of Mia Thermopolis, a nerdy and unpopular 10th grader growing up in San Francisco. At school, Mia has a best friend in gawky outcast Lilly (Heather Matarazzo), with whom she shares everything, including secret handshake rituals. Life is simple enough, until Mia's father dies and things take an unexpected turn. She discovers that her father was actually the prince of a mythical pear-growing country in Europe named Genovia, a secret Mia's mother (Caroline Goodall) kept from her so mother and daughter could lead a less regal lifestyle in America. It turns out that Mia is the sole heir to the throne of Genovia. Her grandmother, Queen Clarisse Rinaldi (Julie Andrews), comes to California to tell Mia about her lineage and find out if she will accept the throne. If this is ever to happen, Mia must first learn some basic charm and etiquette to carry herself with the grace of a true princess…but her subsequent metamorphosis alienates her from her gawky best friend.

Acting

The acting is probably the film's strongest point. Andrews is so perfect as the Queen of Genovia she almost seems majestic. She even has the royal wave down pat. Big-screen newcomer Hathaway (from Fox's Get Real) is actually quite endearing as the klutz-turned-princess Mia; she has a natural, very down-to-earth quality. With her big brown eyes and ear-to-ear grin, you have to wonder if director Garry Marshall is having visions of the next Julia Roberts. Hector Elizondo plays an royal chauffeur/confidant to both Mia and the Queen. Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) was well cast as the socially conscious ugly duckling with chubby ankles. Surprisingly not bad is singer Mandy Moore. She plays a bitchy blonde cheerleader without overdoing her part and is entertaining considering the script made her character shallow and uninteresting. The film's bad boy, Erik von Detten, plays the perfect preppy jerk and Robert Schwartzman (looking an awful lot like Oasis' Noel Gallagher) is appropriately awkward and introverted as the boy next door. Not bad at all considering all the young talent involved, thanks no doubt to the help of veteran actress Andrews.

Direction

With this G-rated comedy, Marshall was trying to create a film that parents could enjoy along with their children. It's a sweet and funny story, but the problem is it's the same sweet and funny story we've seen a million times before. The cast is different and the outfits are updated but the Cinderella-type formula remains the same, making the film boring and predictable. It's not even an old story with a new spin. It's not bad, it's simply lazy. Why can't Hollywood transform a truly ugly girl into a stunning beauty? It might have been far more interesting, for example, if someone like Matarazzo had been heir to the throne. After all, I doubt anyone ever thought for a minute that Hathaway was anything less than beautiful under those frizzy locks and glasses. To transform a teenager with a big nose and double chin would have been far more impressive. The story, written by Gina Wendkos, definitely could have used more thought and creativity and less sugar and spice.

Bottom Line

Andrews and the rest of the The Princess Diaries cast elevate this film to something more than it actually is. It might be entertaining if you like cute adolescent flicks that don't involve much thinking, or perhaps if you are a 4-year-old girl who still believes in fairy tales.