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EVER AFTER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Houston, Dougray Scott, Patrick Godfrey
Director:  Andy Tennant
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  121 Minutes
Release Date: 
October 17, 2006

"Just breathe..."

Film ***1/2

It can't be an easy task to take a fable as old and well known as Cinderella, and make a movie that is truly enchanting and utterly absorbing despite the fact the story has been etched in our hearts since childhood.  It's certainly a feat if the film comes across as something unique and original in its own right as well.  Ever After is just such a movie.

This is a fairy tale stripped of almost everything that made it a fairy tale, and yet maintains a feeling of magic.  This is not your grandmother's Cinderella, nor likely is it your children's.  This one is just for us.

It begins with the Brothers Grimm...yes, those brothers...at an audience with an elderly lady, who professes a love of their works, but wants to set the record straight regarding their tale of the little cinder girl.  Itís a terrific beginning for a film.  I was hooked immediately.

We are introduced to Danielle as a child, whose father takes for a wife a Baroness (Houston) who has two children of her own.  Of course, the father dies unexpectedly, leaving the child in the care of her stepmother.  Familiar stuff so far, but it starts to get good quickly.

Danielle as a young lady (Barrymore) is quite a bit different than the cinder girl from our bedtime stories.  She is not a wispy, pathetic waif who dreams of a faraway Prince Charming.  Instead, she is a strong woman, both physically and mentally, one who is well read, intelligent and resourceful, and frankly, one who shows respect for, but does not cower before, her stepmother.  Barrymore's performance is a revelation, with a perfect British accent to boot (all cast members speak with this accent, though the story takes place in France).

And what of the stepmother, played by Houston?  After all, this character was pretty much the epitome of evil when we were kids.  Only an actress of the caliber of Houston could take such a one dimensional, one note character, and bring an enigmatic sort of humanity to her.  Cruel?  Yes, but not like the stepmother of the Disney film.  Her main fault is in the interest of one of her daughters and what she can be.  At one point, she asks wouldn't a mother do just about anything for her own child?  Probably.

Another interesting point of fact is though the story traditionally has two vain and selfish stepsisters, here we get only one.  The other is actually quite kind and shy, though neither are particularly bright.  A pleasant surprise for me was seeing Melanie Lynskey play the sweet stepsister.  I had not seen her since she and Kate Winslet made their debuts in one of my favorite films, Heavenly Creatures.

And there are no fairy godmothers, to be sure, or pumpkins that turn to coaches, or magical ball dresses.  Even the glass slipper is a rather plain looking affair.  Nor does Danielle don a glittering gown and pretend to be regal to attract her prince, but rather, she does it to buy a friend back from debtor's slavery.

But of course, she does meet the prince, Henry (Dougray Scott), who is not quite the Prince Charming of old.  He is restless, a little self centered (but not annoyingly so), who finds himself falling for the mysterious girl who can quote Thomas More and sword fight with equal prowess.  And, I suppose it doesn't hurt that she looks like Drew Barrymore, either.

Another nice touch is the addition of Leonardo da Vinci as a character.  There are no fairies in the story, but this wise artist and inventor does seem to provide a bit of magic when needed, as well as sage advice to a prince who struggles to know what he wants.

It all becomes complicated when Danielle becomes a serious threat to the Baroness and her designs for her own daughter with the prince.  There are a few more surprises in store, and of course, not from the original tale.

Overall, the effect of the movie is truly wonderful.  The cast is perfect, the sets and costumes really sweep you away like any good period piece will, and the story comes across as beautifully romantic rather than fairy tale fluff, with some moments of true dramatic intensity and a little comedy along the way.

Video ***

The widescreen transfer isn't anamorphic, but it still looks quite good, very free of compression (especially clear in the dark scenes), but overall, just a tad soft looking.

Audio ***

The soundtrack is a good 5.1 mix, though most of the movie won't damage the breakables on your shelves.  Dialogue comes through clearly at all times, and the beautiful music, which at times swells from all channels, is a definite plus.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Ever After is a wonderful retelling of a classic fairy tale in a way that finds magic in the characters and their world, rather than through fairies and special effects.  Anchored by two superb performances by Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Houston, this sweet and charming film will no doubt continue to win hearts with this DVD release.

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