The Princess Diaries
by Del Harvey
Meg Cabot’s bestseller makes for a marvelous film thanks to newcomer Anne Hathaway and the skilled efforts by Julie Andrews and Garry Marshall.
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Mia Thermopolous (Anne Hathaway—tv’s Get Real) is a very bright and awkward 16-year old. In fact she’s almost invisible at school. She’s painfully shy, quirky, and she wears glasses. Of course, she hangs out with the nerds, including best friend Lilly (Heather Matarazzo—Welcome To The Doll House, Scream 3) and her musician brother (Robert Schwartzman—The Virgin Suicides). Mia sometimes fantasizes about what it would be like to be the romantic interest of Josh, the big jock at the private school she attends. But her life is what it is—dull—and she seem accepting of this fact. So she and Lilly figure the only way they’ll ever make a difference in the world is by circulating petitions and making contributions to certain causes.
Mia lives in a converted old fire station in San Francisco with Helen, her mom (Caroline Goodall—The Mists Of Avalon). Helen’s a struggling artist and soon we learn how the two support themselves; Dad left right after Mia was born, but he is very generous with the child support.
One day at school Mia must defend the school uniforms in a pro/con debate with Josh, the jock. Josh gives his speech first and, without really saying anything of substance, manages to rally the bulk of the class with his charm. Come Mia’s turn, she can barely get the words out before her fear of speaking gets the better of her and she runs to the bathroom.
Mia’s life seems to be firmly entrenched in its own dull routine. Then one day her grandmother calls to invite her to tea. Mia has never met her father’s mother, and she doesn’t believe when Helen tells her that Grandmother is Queen Clarisse Renaldi, the ruler of a small European country. Then Mom spills the beans, that her father was destined to rule the country of Genovia, but Mom didn’t want to go. She wanted her little girl to have a normal life. Mia takes the news like any 16 year old would—she goes into shock. But the biggest shock is yet to come.
She goes to tea with Grandmother and is offended when the guards treat her like any other stranger. When Grandmother, Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews—Mary Poppins, Victor Victoria), arrives, she explains that not only has Mia’s father passed away, but that means that his daughter is the next in line to rule Genovia. After this sinks in for Mia she really freaks out.
As Mia, Anne Hathaway is magnificent and refreshing. The character and story are reminiscent of Liza Dolittle’s transition from flower girl to lady of society in My Fair Lady. Ms. Hathaway is talented enough to remind us of Audrey Hepburn, while also resembling Julia Roberts and Sela Ward. This young actress has a style that is subtle and charming, and she has the potential to be a star if she continues to get such good roles.
Julie Andrews is a class act all the way. It is great to see her in a role befitting her abilities and something a little more meaty than being sidekick to Dudley Moore. Ms. Andrews is a actress who can make any part believable, and one whose talent and experience make a strong foundation to any film. It is a true delight to see her on the screen.
Among the rest of the younger actors, Heather Matarazzo (Lilly) stood out most. She is an exuberant young lady with an explosive laugh and a chutzpah which is captivating. She, too, could go far, although more likely in supporting roles.
Other supporting cast members include Hector Elizondo as Joe, the Queen’s enigmatic and understanding security officer who takes a liking to Mia. Larry Miller makes a short comic appearance as a hair stylist which would have been rather dull if handled by anyone else. And the very funny comedienne Sandra Oh (Arli$$, Double Happiness) has a small role as Vice Principal Gupta.
Garry Marshall (Beaches, Pretty Woman, Laverne & Shirley) is one of our better directors for comedies, and he does an excellent job with Meg Cabot’s story.
Meg Cabot has written a popular series of books about a young woman who becomes a princess. Ms. Cabot also writes under the names Patricia Cabot and Jenny Carroll.
I recommend The Princess Diaries for the whole family. Anne Hathaway is a rising young star to watch, and Julie Andrews is as delightful as ever.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago and is a veteran of Lucasfilm, the Walt Disney Company, and the Directors Guild of America.
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