`Prince & Me' is fairy tale with a lot of heart

Stiles will make a believer of you

MovieReview

April 02, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

SUN SCORE ***

Thank goodness for fairy tales, for a culture that keeps believing in them and for a movie culture that keeps going back to them.

Done well, fairy tales make wonderful movies, flights of fancy in which everything turns out right at the end, the virtuous are rewarded and beauty isn't as important as soul. Even done just OK, they're delightful and fun (if a bit contrived), especially when a star uses the occasion to shine.

The Prince & Me, with Julia Stiles as an overachieving pre-med who falls for a Danish prince slumming it undercover among the common folk, falls into the latter category. Yes, one can see the strings being pulled, can feel credulity being stretched to the breaking point, can sense the spirits of so many movies past that the feeling of deja vu almost overwhelms. But it's all done with such good heart, and Stiles is so perfectly appealing as one of cinema's most grounded Cinderellas, that such quibbles fade into irrelevance.

Paige Morgan (Stiles) is a modern American girl, determined to live the dream she's had her entire life - getting into med school (Hopkins, natch) and working with Doctors Without Borders to bring good health to the most remote parts of the world. To that end, she's all business, sticking her nose in the books and having little time for such pleasantries as rest or relaxation (she does have several good friends, so she can't be too much of a stick in the mud).

But then Eddie (Luke Mably, far less angst-driven than in 28 Days Later) enters her picture. At first, he's nothing but a drag, a roustabout who isn't able to do anything for himself, a child of privilege who's spoiled beyond hope of redemption.

But hey, he's trying, if only to turn his so-far-unrequited affection for Paige into the requited kind. At this he eventually succeeds, even though not quite believably at first (the script stumbles for a while before turning their mutual attraction into something that is earned, instead of decreed).

But then - horrors! - she discovers he's not really Eddie, but Edward, crown prince of Denmark and soon to become king. This proves too much for Paige, who hates being lied to (even though Eddie never exactly lied) and, perhaps even worse, dislikes the idea of someone born to privilege instead of earning it. Or maybe what she hates is that she'd be destined to walk forever in Edward's shadow, not a notion modern American girls cotton to. Or do they? For Eddie/Edward is awfully handsome, good-hearted and all kinds of appealing. Maybe Paige could fine-tune her dreams just a little?

Stiles, who comes across as one of Hollywood's most intelligent young actresses (she just looks like she can spot stupid a mile away), really makes the movie. Director Martha Coolidge keeps things light and fluffy, perhaps too much so sometimes, but Stiles possesses an ability to keep things real. She's believable as a brain and engaging as a spirit; she's also beautiful in a way that's more embracing than astonishing. The Prince & Me may take a few too many turns for its own good, putting roadblocks in the young lovers' way that are both irritating and implausible (especially Miranda Richardson as Edward's imperious mother), but Stiles' performance overcomes all obstacles.

Several articles have already been written about the cultural significance of movies like The Prince & Me, where young girls are being taught the lesson that they can have both a handsome prince and a rewarding career (how many old-time Cinderellas had to worry about getting into med school?). Such considerations make movies like this a worthy subject of study. Stiles' performance makes this one a joy.

The Prince & Me

Starring Julia Stiles, Luke Mably

Directed by Martha Coolidge

Released by Paramount Pictures

Rated PG (some sex-related material and language)

Time 111 minutes@

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