When it comes to my favorite genres, 'fairytale retelling' is way up there on the list. It's a genre I've spent a lot of time in myself writing-wise, and I hope to hang out there a lot more for years to come! And Ever After is one of those fairytale retellings where I dream, one day, of writing one as lovely and thoroughly good. It is basically the film equivalent of Ella Enchanted. (Perhaps even more so than the actual film adaptation of Ella Enchanted, which I have to confess I have never watched in full.)
Reading More's Utopia for my Utopian Studies literature class this semester seemed as good a reason as any for another Ever After rewatch! (Way to go, Thomas More. It's possible that at the part about society making thieves and then punishing them, I scribbled "omg Ever After!! <3" in my margin notes. As serious intellectuals do!) And it is just such a good film, lovely and thoughtful and clever and sweet, which is exactly my favorite kind of story.
I don't often see this movie discussed, so I figured I'd just devote a bit of time to explaining the things I love about it. Because having giddy feelings about fiction is what I do best!
FIRST AND FOREMOST: THE LADIES
I really admire how this movie takes the Cinderella archetypes -- the sweet girl and her relentlessly awful stepfamily -- and really gives careful time and consideration to their characterization. It's one of those qualities that kinda makes me feel like this movie is based on a book; there's such a sense of wholeness and nuance to the way it approaches its characters. Like, look at this film, and then look at, say, Snow White and The Huntsman (which I really enjoy as a film too, for different reasons, but OH MAN, my kingdom for a screenplay with actual depth to its characterization, rather than just tons of potential).
Danielle: Danielle is one of my very favorite female film protagonists ever. I love that we get such a thorough sense of who she is, which isn't something a movie can always manage with its characterization. She's genuinely sweet and compassionate but she's got a formidable temper; she feels awkward dressin' up fancy but she carries herself with confidence anyway; she quotes Utopia with righteous indignation like a boss and throws apples at Prince Henry's head. She just wants her stepsister to marry the prince so she can have her childhood home all to herself and her fellow servants so they can, like, keep bees and fly kites in fields and stuff. And I love that she is so tough about so many things, but she has this very raw vulnerable weak spot, despite everything, where she just wants her stepmother to love her as a daughter. Ye gods, that gets me every time! And I love that she cries a lot in this movie. She's allowed to have emotions and punch people in the face and wear glorious sparkly dresses.
Her Stepmother, Rodmilla: Anjelica Huston, being flawless! I love that she functions as both a comedic and a dramatic character, and I love that the film gives us that one moment early on that sets her whole character trajectory off: when her husband gives his daughter his attention in his dying moments, and ignores his wife. His wife who's been brought to a place entirely different from the world that she knew and is just not at all keen to be there. This doesn't excuse how terrible she is, but it gives such a fascinating explanation, and I like to think that she did love Danielle's father and that's where that extra vitriol comes from. (She's like a lady Snape! ... Kind of.) And her scenes with Danielle are SO GOOD AND PAINFUL. There's this sense that very occasionally, she slips up and lets something almost like affection through, and then compensates by just being extra, extra horrible. Agh, complex villains! Is there anything better?? Straight up pure inhuman evil works sometimes in stories, but it provides such a wonderful soul-wrenching twist to the heart when you know the character has the potential to be good, that there's something like compassion in there somewhere, but they still don't choose to act on it.
Her Wicked Stepsister, Marguerite: A confession: I love super fabulous bitches. I can't help it. Female characters who are entirely shameless about their own wicked selfish wiliness are completely delightful to me. And Marguerite is such a good one! Her complete and entire lack of shame as she tries to woo the prince is the straight up BEST. Like, in the original fairytale the stepsisters cut off their toes so they can try to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper at the end, and even though Marguerite (very fortunately) does not do this, she so thoroughly believes in her right to be a princess that you can kind of sense that she would. When she's got a black eye because Danielle punched her in the face for being the worst, Marguerite still goes to tea with the Queen and makes up a story where she saved a freakin' baby from a carriage accident! NO SHAME; I love it.
Honestly, I would to this day love a sequel film where Marguerite adjusts to being impoverished and has some sort of haphazard love/hate romance full of bickering and indignant screeching.
Also, the scene where the prince feeds her chocolate is awesome. GET IT, GIRL. Yay for chocolate.
Her Not So Wicked Stepsister, Jacqueline: And then there is Jacqueline, who isn't a wicked stepsister so much as a meek one. She's the victim of her mother and sister's cruelty like Danielle is, if in a less extreme way; she is so cute and mousy and awkward and I dare you not to love her instantly! And the best part is: she doesn't stay that way. We don't just get the story of Danielle's liberation in Ever After; Jacqueline, too, finds her voice and falls in love and winds up on Danielle's side in the end. I just think that is so great, that two female characters get an arc like this in one movie -- especially when they're female characters who are just enemies in the original story. The quiet quasi-friendship between Jacqueline and Danielle is such a bittersweet gem.
Plus, Jacqueline and her courtier boyfriend dude bond over dressing up like horses at the masquerade ball, in perhaps what is one of the most winsome flirtatious exchanges in the history of film. There's neighing and everything! My boyfriend said that is his favorite part of this movie, and he's in a passionate rivalry with horses (like, collectively, as a species), so you know it has to be good.
ALSO, DANIELLE'S FAIRY GODMOTHER IS LEONARDO DA VINCI
Like, that's just cool. Cooler than anything that happened in The Da Vinci Code, I'm pretty sure. Sorry, Dan Brown! Did your version of Da Vinci invent body glitter??
AND HER BFF IS, I AM PRETTY SURE, SOME FAMOUS OLDE SCHOOLE PAINTER GUY
Okay, I can't remember his name to look him up on Wikipedia, but her BFF is totally cute and they have lots of great scenes together, and when they're kids, she totally beats him at roughhousing. And I'm pretty sure he is a famous artist. So that's cool!
ALSO, THE SERVANTS ARE SO AWESOME
I just love the snarky wonderful servants who make up Danielle's true family. That scene where she brings Old Guy Servant back and he and his wife reunite and everybody's all group huggin' outside? I'm not crying, it's just been raining on my face!
ALSO, HENRY IS A BRAT, BUT A CUTE BRAT, AND HIS PARENTS ARE DELIGHTFUL
Like, okay, Prince Henry's kind of the worst in this movie, especially at the beginning, but it's mostly okay because the movie gets it and fixes him, and he has lots of great lines, especially the speech about trying to figure out who your true love is. Also, his mom is awesome and amazing, and his dad is all blustering and Lord Grantham-y and I enjoy all the royal family scenes greatly. I love the part where the King threatens his son super awkwardly with, "I will simply deny you the crown, and -- and live ... forever!" You go, King Charming Guy.
This is one of those love stories that basically goes: "Girl is the best freakin' ever, gettin' stuff done and being god damn awesome. Guy is initially in a foemance with girl, but becomes awed by girl's smartness and awesomeness, and she inspires him to be a non-sucky human being by calling him out on his nonsense." THOSE ARE THE BEST LOVE STORIES THERE CAN BE.
THEY USE LOREENA MCKENNITT IN THE TRAILER
It doesn't even matter that "The Mummer's Dance" doesn't make it into the actual movie. If you are using Loreena in your trailer, you are doing something so right. OooOooOooOoohhhhh!
AND, OF COURSE, ONE OF THE GREATEST SCENES IN ANYTHING EVER
Like, come on, that's freaking awesome.
So, in conclusion, THIS is how you retell a fairytale. None of that Red Riding Hood nonsensicality. Oh my God. That movie was so bad. Even the red-cloak-in-white-snowy-forest visual couldn't save it. Even Amanda Seyfried couldn't save it, even though her folksy cover of "Red Riding Hood" is pretty darn nice. Let's never speak of this film again.
Fairytales are often a place where female characters are in the lead and female experiences are prioritized by the narrative -- and there's often more than one female character, and the relationship between them is central. Even if it's usually because they are foes. Our cultural perception of fairytales tends to prioritize the happily ever after! heteronormative aspect beyond all else; I love that in addition to being a great romantic love story, this retelling devotes careful attention to Danielle's relationships with the women in her life too.
So let's all watch Ever After one million times! Hooray!