“Do fairy tales come true, Dad?” a young sprite asks her father in A Cinderella Story. “No, but dreams do.” This is odd, coming from a telling that includes neither fairies nor much of the fantastic. Those closer to 30 going on 13 will want to attend only with a ‘tween in tow—the film lacks the guiltily pleasurable panache (and punch) of other recent chickadee flicks posited as protofeminist fairy tales.
Hilary Duff is the upwardly mobile little match girl, Sam, who asks, “Where do princesses go to college, Daddy?” “Uh, where the princes go: Princeton.” After Daddy’s death by natural disaster, Sam toils in his diner, now repapered in pinks, for her buxom, Botoxed bitch of a stepmother (Jennifer Coolidge). She takes part in a pseudonymous epistolary courtship via I.M., e-mail, and texting with a fellow Princeton wannabe, class president and star quarterback Austin (Chad Michael Murray); but neither “Nomad” nor “Princetongirl” knows the other’s real identity.
Thinly veiled as Cinderella, Diner Girl (as she’s deemed by the Plastics, I mean, the forgettable fancy girls) agrees to finally meet her Charming at the school costume ball, but alas, her foufy white dress and tiny bejeweled mask prove too much disguise for him to decipher. This Princeton-bound brooder can’t quite figure out who his princess-to-be is after she dashes off with the requisite property drop—here, her cell phone instead of an achy glass slipper. Are rhinestones really that blinding? Bibbity bobbity, boo-hoo.