The Princess Diaries is a 2001 American teen romantic comedy film directed by Gary Marshall. Based on a novel by Meg Cabot bearing the same name, it centres on Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway), a young San Francisco girl who discovers and has to come to terms with the fact that she is a princess and the heir to the throne of a European monarchy called Genovia.
a.) Mia Thermopolis.
I think we can all agree that at this point in time, Anne Hathaway has made a big name for herself in Hollywood; she has played a number of characters with a good number of them possessing that aura of celebrity and royalty to them. One might wonder why she is a go-to actress when it comes to the latter and thus let’s delve into the movie that sets that aspect of her filmography in motion. She plays Mia, a 15 year old lass who considers herself odd and understandably so given how she carries herself out as well as how some people treat her pretty much throughout the movie. She is a pariah in school; aside from her friends in Lily (Heather Matarazzo) and Michael (Robert Shwartzman), everyone else can’t stand the sight of her case in point the scene where she is on a concrete slab and a schoolmate comes and sits on her pretending he didn’t notice she was there.
Additionally, Anne Hathaway’s character is completely oblivious to etiquette. It is a facet to Mia that is highlighted well during the moments she has with her grandmother or within the premises of her grandmother’s residence; she walks on lawns instead of pavements, can’t put properly put on a necklace she is given as a gift, knocks her teaspoon on the cup of tea several times just to name but a few. She is basically a flawed character, something that is vividly painted to me as an audience member throughout and thus I was interested to see whether Mia had some redeeming qualities that showed there was more to her than she thought she was and than people perceived. Having watched the film, I can indeed say that I got enough satisfaction from her character because her arc was progressive and had appealing development.
b.) Queen Clarisse.
If I said I am conversant with Julie Andrews as an actress, I’d be lying; most of her cinematic success is characterized by movies that were released way before I was born in the mid 90’s and hence, you’d understand why I’m not. That said, I was impressed by what she was able to do with the character of Queen Clarisse of Genovia, she made it her own and you could tell by her mannerisms in character which brought out that believability that I needed to be convinced that she could pass for a Queen in real life. Aside from the scenes in the movie where she is being given a tour of San Fransisco which eventually ends in a mild road accident, Julie’s character sells that royalty feel in her dialogue and deeds. Furthermore, Clarisse’s presence in the film is substantially relevant because without her, the film would be basically chocking to death; she is the one who breaks the normalcy of Mia’s life and changes it not only for her grand-daughter’s betterment but also for the betterment of the Genovian throne whose destiny is hanging by a thread.
c.) Auxiliary characters.
Yes, I am aware of the fact that movies of this caliber often have characters with stunted development who are only there to enhance certain subplots connected to the main character though not steal the spotlight while doing it. This aspect isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I understand the reasoning behind those characters nonetheless, their performances have to be energetic and convincing for me to acknowledge them. In this instance, characters like the royal butler Joe (Hector Elizondo) and Mia’s mother Helen Thermopolis (Caroline Goodall) didn’t really give it their all and this issue can partly be blamed by the material that these actors were given. Furthermore, there are some who I expected to have redeeming qualities but eventually didn’t for example Mia’s school adversaries in Lana Thomas (Mandy Moore) or Josh Bryant (Erik Von Detten) and that was a big letdown for me.
There is an exception in all this though, and its Lily. Heather Matarazzo’s character sets herself apart from the rest because she goes through certain stages that are quite compelling to watch. Being Mia’s best friend and all, it was interesting for me to see her reaction and adaptation of this new and impromptu role that her pal had just received. In the beginning, she is very skeptical of the idea because she thinks it might change Mia into the one thing she dreads most; a girl with a “too cool for school” persona which she already had in her school nemesis by the name Lana Thomas. It was great to see the leaps and bounds that characterized Mia and Lilly’s relationship because there was a lot of realism to it and it reflected what would plausibly happen if the both of them existed in the real world in their capacities.
The Plot, Boons and Banes
A rags to riches story is always a good one, especially if it is done right; this photoplay does it right considerably. Why you ask? Well, the fact that it highlights the struggles that Mia faces throughout her transition to Genovian royalty made her story authentic and I give the script-writing team a thumbs up for that. It’s a big step for her and she feels she is not ready to take up such an immense responsibility. Additionally, this whole royalty fiasco shakes her friendships with Lily and Michael to the core since in these kinds of situations, people who receive overnight popularity tend to change aspects to their personalities that those closest to them feel are for the worst. Mia’s case is no exemption and thus the film did justice by presenting that to me as well as any other person out there who watches this movie and somehow finds himself or herself in the situation that Anne Hathaway’s character is in.
That said, there’s a lot to despise about this movie; faults that I just could not let go of. First off, there is a lot of lethargic royalty dialogue that seems forced when it shouldn’t be. Secondly, there is the “dad factor”; we don’t get to see Mia’s father and I feel like his omission was a missed opportunity to add more meat to Mia as a character in her struggles and confusion during this royalty fiasco from an audience member perspective. The film should have at least shown one or two flashback scenes featuring him and his relationship with his family more so his wife and the psychological conflict that rocked him when he had to choose between royalty and marriage. The latter is something we only come to know of in the most lazy way courtesy of a narration that Queen Clarisse gives Mia.
The film is also plagued with some silly and unnecessary scenes i.e Clarisse ‘knighting’ a tram driver and a policeman in order to get Mia out of legal trouble or even journalists taking pictures of Mia when she clearly only has a towel to hide her nudity. Sticking with the media trait, it is used badly throughout the film’s runtime; journalists tend to pop out in one too many scenes and I wasn’t getting the hang of it. Finally, we have the ‘evil woman’ who is eyeing Mia’s position in the Genovian royal family who gets no characterization in this whole story but the movie includes anyway; she is not menacing in the way she speaks, she doesn’t do anything to compromise Mia in any way as I would have expected and thus I didn’t have reason to care about her.
To conclude my review, I’d like to attest to the fact that I had more perspective watching this movie just recently as a critic than I had when I watched it in my childhood. I am not afraid to say that I liked it back then because I was only focusing on the story of a motion-picture and whether or not it had an impact and an emotional core as opposed to other important elements. The Princess Diaries has a good story and an okay emotionalism, I’ll give it that. Nevertheless, there was so much to it that did not impress me as much from a critical point of view but I’d understand anyone who loved everything about this film, I really would.
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