THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"A CINDERELLA STORY: ONCE UPON A SONG"
A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song is like a movie version of “iCarly” or “Victorious” or any of those other tween girl shows that combine broad physical humor, mild expressions of pubescent sexuality, and fantasies of becoming famous. What is it with tween entertainment today? So much of it is centered around the idea of achieving fame. Then again, we do live in an era where everybody tapes/uploads/tweets every single thing they do. Perhaps it makes sense after all.
Our heroine is Katie, played by Lucy Hale, the former “American Juniors” contestant and current star of “Pretty Little Liars.” Katie is an aspiring singer/songwriter who unfortunately can't get out from under the thumb of her wicked stepmother, Gale Van Ravensway (Missi Pyle). Gale's primary goal in life is to turn her snooty daughter Bev (Megan Park) into a superstar. The only problem is that Bev can't sing a lick. When Luke (Freddie Stroma), the son of a big time music mogul, arrives at the girls' performing arts school and is assigned to produce the annual talent showcase, Gale insists that Katie be the “voice” of Bev, who will lip sync during the show. Of course, both girls also end up in competition for the affections of Luke.
I think you can probably guess where this plot goes. Storytelling originality is not exactly the movie's strong suit; everything is strictly paint-by-numbers. It doesn't do comedy well either. The script's attempts at humor are on the level of your average Nickelodeon sitcom, right down to the precocious stepbrother who improbably has a bedroom full of spy gadgets that prove convenient at a key moment. Every attempt to mine a laugh is carried out in as unsubtle a way as possible.
There's also something a little off-putting about the portrayal of Katie. While we certainly understand that she's as sincere as she is talented, the movie refuses to allow her to just be those things. She still has to wear a variety of revealing clothes and, in one scene, get locked out of the house while naked. (Luke, of course, shows up at this precise moment.) It's almost as if Once Upon a Song is saying that young women need to be validated by their physical beauty and their attractiveness to boys. That's a strange message to send in what is allegedly an empowerment tale.
At least the musical numbers aren't too bad. Hale can certainly sing, and there's a fantastic Bollywood song and dance number about halfway through. The songs performed throughout do indeed sound current, as though you could hear them on the radio today.
In fairness, this movie is not made for 43 year-old male film critics. It is made for tween girls who have the same kind of fantasies that Katie does. I have little doubt that it will hit the mark with its target audience. But here's the thing: a genuinely good movie can be enjoyed by anybody. I myself have enjoyed other movies aimed at tween girls because they were smart, perceptive, and entertaining. A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song isn't likely to be enjoyed by anyone outside the demographic. It's only real point of view is that the best things you can aspire to in life are to be “hot,” to land a cute boy, and to become a famous pop star. While the young girls this movie is aimed at may well respond to that, I am duty-bound to report only my own reaction. The singing and dancing were fine, but at the levels of storytelling, comedy, and romance, Once Upon a Song is, to borrow an apt phrase, really pitchy.
( 1/2 out of four)
A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song arrives on DVD and digital download on September 6. It can be purchased or rented on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles. It will also be available on demand from cable and satellite providers.
The bonus features begin with “Spotlighting Lucy Hale: Our New Cinderella,” an approximately seven-minute segment in which the cast members discuss their fondness for their leading lady. It is followed up with “Meet Prince Charming,” an equal-length feature in which Hale lobs interview questions at her on-screen love interest. Both are extremely fluffy, and aimed at fans of the two stars.
Of more interest is “Make 'Em Move,” a look behind the scenes at the movie's choreography. It's interesting to see how different styles were utilized and how the actors, who had varying degrees of dance experience, were trained.
Also included on the DVD are “Flipped on Set,” a montage of goofing-around footage shot by the stars on flip cams, and a music video for Hale's “Bless Myself” song.
A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song is rated PG for language, and some crude and suggestive content. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.