Saturday, 10 November 2018

Charming (2018) - Movie Review

Our understanding of classic fairy tales has changed substantially over the last two decades. Once the vanguards of the popular contemporary takes of Happily Ever After, studios like Disney and Dreamworks have been taking a long, hard look at the olden tales and applying the thematic scalpel. From Shrek to Frozen to the slew of live-action remakes Disney has been churning out, and will continue to do so for quite a while yet, revisionist fairy tales have provided a lot of food for thought about how much perceptions have changed. Of course, with that trend comes the unavoidable cash-ins, those who see dollar signs in the act of revising and retelling these old stories but never manage to figure out why these revisions are happening. Charming, in all ways possible, fits that mould.

Reframing the story of Prince Charming, played here by “Whatever Happened To That Guy” hall of famer Wilder Vanderrama, his ubiquity in the tales of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella is treated as a magical curse: Every maiden that lays eyes on the prince’s smile is hopelessly smitten with him, abandoning their own partners in pursuit of the fair prince. It feels like it’s trying for the same modernisation as stories like Frozen, where ideals of true love and ingrained gender roles were questioned in regards to modern tastes, except it plays the tropes too straight. He is tasked with going on a grand voyage to pass an ancient gauntlet to discover “true love”, all while he considers which of his suitors he should wed, lest the curse last forever. No human being would go through such an ordeal just to decide whether marrying Avril Lavigne (who portrays Snow White) is a good idea.

While there’s gripes to be made about the animation, which has lip-synch akin to a kung-fu flick and is never not distracting, and the soundtrack, which ranges wildly from Sia’s emotionally-driven pop balladry and Patrick Stump furthering his downward spiral into utter garbage, the biggest problem here lies with the main premise. The idea of a man being cursed to take many suitors, more than any fairy tale, is reminiscent of a slightly less skeevy reworking of Good Luck Chuck. It also fails for the exact same reason: In order for the premise to even work in the first place, it relies on women being inherently superficial and requiring a man to complete their lives. It’s the kind of message that has been at the heart of revisionist fairy tales, mainly to tear it to pieces and question the level of entitlement that’s baked into the trope. Hell, the Shrek series had their own subversion of Prince Charming, with all the narrative entitlement and seething douchebaggery at the forefront; for a film that is all-too-proud of sharing a producer with those films, this sure missed one of the biggest points of that series.

This film tries its hand at rethinking the trope of the saviour prince, mainly through showing Charming as being sad that all these women are throwing themselves at him (otherwise known as the starting point for thinking that men will accept any romantic or even sexual advance made at them, a particularly toxic stereotype) and Demi Lovato’s thief Lenore questioning his position all the while. Except it isn’t even questioning anything; it’s just redressing the status quo in a way that strongarms the audience into siding with the avatar of everything we’ve been questioning about these fairy tales. Admittedly, where his character arc takes him results in a jarringly dark yet genuinely mature set-up for the finale, but by that point, the damage has already been done. “It’s not the end; it’s just the beginning”, says the film perpetually stuck at the end of how we once saw olden stories of princes and damsels.

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