A royal family
'The Princess Diaries' launches Anne Hathaway as a major teen star
By Loey Lockerby
Director Garry Marshall has a gift for discovering charming young ingenues. In 1990, he made Julia Roberts a superstar by casting her in "Pretty Woman." In 2001, he just might work the same magic for Anne Hathaway, a teen-age beauty whose only other notable credit is the short-lived TV series "Get Real." After this summer, she very well may have her own fairy tale career.
Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, a San Francisco prep school student who lives with her artist mother (Caroline Goodall) and laments her status as the class dork. She's shy, gawky and insecure, finding solidarity only with her bossy best friend, Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) and Lilly's cute brother (Robert Schwartzman). Mia's social standing changes drastically when her long-lost grandmother (Julie Andrews) appears with the news that Mia's late, estranged father
was the sole heir to the throne of a tiny European country. Which means, of course, that Grandma is a queen and Mia herself is a real live princess.
Instead of being thrilled, Mia is horrified at the way her life is turned upside down by the news -- she'd really rather not draw attention to herself, especially since doing so always leads to disaster (as she proves by throwing up in debate class). Her grandmother finally convinces her to take "princess lessons" until time for a big state dinner, where the fate of the royal family will be determined by Mia's decision to accept or reject her title.
The same can't be said of some of the other performers, however. Most of the young co-stars (including pop singer Mandy Moore) are simply adequate, with the exception of Matarazzo, who is downright annoying. (Her pushy and sullen character hosts a talk show called "Shut Up and Listen.") Goodall plays the supportive mom as well as could be expected, considering how useless her character is otherwise (she seems remarkably detached for someone whose daughter just became royalty). This is a film whose success depends almost entirely on its stars, because they certainly don't get much help from the supporting cast.
Marshall's direction is typically run-of-the-mill, although he still has the sense of pacing he picked up in his days as a sitcom producer -- there are only a few scenes that drag near the end, and even they don't seem extraneous, just slow. The script by Gina Wendkos (adapted from Meg Cabot's novel) is light years ahead of her last effort, the dopy "Coyote Ugly" -- it may be safe to assume that this movie's relatively intelligent dialogue came largely from the book.
"The Princess Diaries" is as light and fluffy as they come, which in this case, is not a bad thing at all. It's a sweet Cinderella story, tailor-made for its target audience, the "tween" girls who are still young enough to dream of being princesses, but old enough to identify with an awkward teen-ager who just wants everyone to leave her alone. There aren't many movies for this age group, and it's nice to see one that will appeal to them without upsetting their parents (no swearing, sex, violence, etc.). Thanks to Marshall and Hathaway, it looks like this generation may have a G-rated "Pretty Woman" of its own.
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