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"Cinderella": Safety First 

Wednesday, Mar 11 2015
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There's really nothing bold about Disney's new live-action version of its own animated classic, unless you count the will to reassert a proprietary claim on a fairy tale. As scripted by the co-creator of American Pie and directed by a lapsed Shakespearean, it really ought to be livelier, but apparently the narrative strategy behind Chris Weitz and Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella is safety first. Through strenuously sparkly, it does seem to relish leaving its heroine fully orphaned and a doormat to her bitchy stepfamily. The whole thing will be distastefully regressive to any on-guard feminist, but maybe the point that it's ultimately an appeal to graciousness can keep us from hating it too hard. When not needlessly reiterating her inherited courage-and-kindness mantra, she does tend to live by it. And who can argue with the typecasting of Lily James as a perfectly pretty and guileless Cinderella, along with James' downstairs Downton Abbey co-star Sophie McShera as one of the stepsisters (Holliday Grainger is the other)? In this setup, it's no surprise that our heroine wins over her Prince Charming (Richard Madden) immediately, seeming entirely undaunted by his little parapet of pearly teeth. Meanwhile it's supposed to be a treat having Helena Bonham Carter as a woozy, narrating Fairy Godmother, and Cate Blanchett, done up like a '40s femme fatale, as the evil Lady Tremaine. But even allowing that Blanchett wrings a wee bit of actual pathos from the added backstory of her character's bitterness, these performances, like the CG concessions of animated animals, are irritatingly overdone. To find something lifelike and keep from tuning out, look to more relaxed, less subtlety-phobic turns from Stellan Skarsgård as a scheming duke and Derek Jacobi as a judicious king.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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