starring Julia Stiles, Luke Mably, Ben Miller, James Fox
screenplay by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler and Katherine Fugate
directed by Martha Coolidge
by Walter Chaw Surprisingly good not the same thing as genuinely good, Martha Coolidge's The Prince & Me returns the director to her Valley Girl formula of cross-cultural teen romantic hurlyburly with a few nice moments and the pleasing aura of a light fantasy, but the film finds itself weighed down at the end by the requirements of its exhausted genre. Moreover, The Prince & Me fails the courage test, needing desperately to have ended about ten minutes before it actually does, and though not a moment of it demands (nor could a moment of it bear) to be assessed through the prism of realism, the gadget of its finale is less "fairytale" than insipid. One cliffhanger is more than enough in most fables, so when The Prince & Me decides to follow twist fast with preordained turn, it exposes its structure as far too flimsy to support the burden of those contortions.
Paige (Julia Stiles, natch) is a brilliant pre-med student with aspirations of saving the world when, once upon a time, she meets the prince charming of Denmark, Eddie (Luke Mably, dreamy), who's on some kind of exchange program based on a viewing of a "Girls Gone Wild" video. The same sort of thing drives one of the abhorrent subplots of Love Actually--the difference here being that Eddie's libido gets drenched by the cold reality that not all American girls are drunken sluts (not so in Richard Curtis's film). So Paige and Eddie fall in love with one another, she takes him home for the holidays, he charms the 'necks with his common touch (and a lawnmower race), and then he tells The Awful Truth. But rather than make a public apology during the big dance, The Prince & Me interestingly decides to show Paige trying out the princess thing for a while. It works. And then there's that rousing violin conclusion that fairly stinks of the feeble-minded groupthink of a test-screening audience.
The Prince & Me opens with some nice match-cuts that telegraph what we already know (that Paige and Eddie were meant to be, of course), demonstrating that Coolidge knows where to point a camera while highlighting in that bland workmanship the root source of the difficulty she's had in finding a voice that matters. Though I'm a fan of Valley Girl, Real Genius, and Rambling Rose, I suspect that my affection for those films is mostly the product of the time of life in which I first saw them and the accompanying sympathy with stories about being romantically melancholy, a secret genius misunderstood, and a child with hopeless crushes on a parade of grown women, respectively. The ability to choose texts that are timeless for adolescents isn't a bad gift, all things considered, and Coolidge's decision to helm The Prince & Me speaks almost to a surrender to her forte thirteen years after Rambling Rose, her last critical hit.
Ultimately, what fails about The Prince & Me isn't that it's rote, but that it doesn't have enough faith in its own simplicity. It teases when it should rely on the nice low simmer of Stiles and Mably, the understated wit of manservant Soren (Ben Miller), or the yeoman supporting work provided by vets Miranda Richardson and James Fox. Never to be mistaken for some kind of classic, the picture did have the potential to be a decent John Hughes throwback--or at least a good deal more economical: it trails in its current incarnation too many extended sequences that distract (a Danish labour dispute springs up in the middle of it, something from the George Lucas school of tension) and bog the film down past the point of rescue. It's not torture, it's actually sort of fun for long stretches--a shame that The Prince & Me squanders all that good will in its desire to be ordinary. Originally published: April 2, 2004.