Handsome royals slum it in both Ella Enchanted and The Prince & Me, and the films’ main tip for you Will or Harry wooers lies somewhere between “be yourself” and “play hard to get.” Ella transpires in a somewhat chintzy fantasy kingdom lousy with more cameos than your typical Love Boat season. Anne Hathaway, the limber and luminous Princess Diaries star, plays a young woman blessed—or cursed?—with the gift of obedience, which means she takes expressions like “Hold your tongue” literally; though manipulated by those who know her secret, she’s thankfully not forced to do anything more salacious than a few steps of the hokeypokey. A critic of the xenophobic monarchy (“Say No to Ogrecide!” reads her protest sign), Ella accidentally snags the attentions of the dashing but politically uninspired Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy), whom her malicious new stepsisters dream of marrying.
Ella aspires to the fabric-puncturing winkery of The Princess Bride (whose Cary Elwes appears here as Charmont’s backstabbing uncle), and those who prefer their fantasy straight (ahem) should return to Middle Earth. A veritable Milky Way of guest stars—from a doggerel-delivering Eric Idle to Beckham‘s Parminder K. Nagra as Ella’s best friend—prove distracting. The anachro-rock insertions may be no more excusable here than in A Knight’s Tale, but Hathaway’s karaoke stab at a Queen chestnut—tentative, then hair-looseningly brassy—has a goofball charm.
Hathaway shares her name with Shakespeare’s wife, but if a biopic were ever cast, Julia Stiles might win the lead based on résumé. After her shrew-taming breakout 10 Things I Hate About You, the husky-voiced, lightly squashed-faced beauty played Ophelia in Hamlet and “Desi” in O. Now comes this adaptation of Sonnet CXLVIII. The Prince & Me‘s Paige Morgan (Stiles) is a farm-raised University of Wisconsin pre-med student; Eddie (Luke Mably) is actually Edvard, prince of Denmark, checking out the U.S. college scene after seeing a particularly inspiring ad for a Girls Gone Wild-style video in his Copenhagen chambers.
“Don’t just go for the obvious,” Eddie tells Paige, as he coaches the science-savvy but Bard-loathing coed through the wilds of line 12 (“The sun itself sees not till heaven clears”). Their opposites-attract trajectory entertainingly reaches an applause-inducing climax—but heeding Eddie’s exegetical advice, Prince refuses to end on such an easy emotional note. The movie continues, very Ikiru-after-Watanabe-dies. Having shelved her dreams of being a doctor, Paige finds herself stranded in Denmark, her body immobilized by stiff garb, her milk-fed American spirit restricted by society’s rules. (Mr. von Trier, here is your Dogville!) Paige eventually comes to a self-affirming decision, but the Danish interlude succeeds too well in making us feel her boredom.