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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Ever After (1998)



Reviews and Comments

"Do not speak unless you can improve the silence."

The origins of the ancient fairy tales that have become inextricably ingrained in our culture are hazy at best and on occasion a total mystery. But it is entirely likely that behind some of the fairy tales are factual stories. I am fascinated by fairy tales and by the particular qualities they have that somehow appeal to the human psyche on a nearly universal scale. I'm also intrigued by what might have caused them to come about.

Thus, Ever After enchanted me from beginning to end. It is a guess as to what the "real" story of Cinderella might have been. Gone are the fairy godmother and the magic that can turn a slave into a princess -- this is firmly grounded in reality, and yet it's a story that so easily might have inspired, through generations of storytelling, the fairy tale we know today. When Cinderella (named Danielle, here) appears at the prince's ball looking like an angel from heaven, it might as well be a spell from a fairy godmother, mightn't it?

The film also adds humanity and dimension to the characters. The wicked stepmother is assuredly wicked, and it is likely that were she a real historical figure, she'd go down in the books as the more linearly evil character we are familiar with today. But she's not that simple -- she's not gratuitously evil so much as protective of her own daughters and resentful, perhaps, that her husband's final words were to Danielle, not her. There are even the odd moments where, under other circumstances, we might sympathize with her -- but all that is kept carefully hidden under the surface. Anjelica Huston's performance is masterfully subtle in this regard, saying more with her eyes and tone of voice than with the actual dialogue.

Drew Barrymore plays Danielle, and her performance was something of a surprise to me. Her convincing, charismatic performance is responsible for a large part of the film's greatness and accomplishes much on many levels. She brings depth and humanity to this very familiar character, carries within her a certain energetic spirit that keeps things moving, and even throws in a touch of modern feminism without also being distracting, irritating, or preachy.

And perhaps what I admired about the film the most, in spite of the fact that this is a fairy tale transported to real life, the mythic, timeless qualities that give fairy tales their spirit are still present. It still seems like a fairy tale. Reflecting on the film, I am still awestruck by the color and passion and otherworldliness of it. It's grounded in reality, treating its characters as real people rather than icons, and yet the essence of the film is the kind of romantic fantasy we look up to and dream of. It's not easy for a movie to have it both ways. As if that weren't enough, this delicate balance is accomplished with apparent ease, for it certainly isn't overly preoccupied with maintaining it. At the forefront is an infectiously joyous spirit of fun. Seldom is a film this entertaining; I couldn't help but get caught up in it. I've rarely been so motivated to hiss at the villains and cheer at the moments of triumph.

Thinking back over it all now, I'm amazed at what an effect it had on me. It gives the false impression of quite the simple film. There's certainly nothing pretentious or needlessly lavish about it. But then, it wasn't pretentiousness or needless lavishness that have made fairy tales endure so long in the first place.