(Written by Allison Brown)
Released in 2004, A Cinderella Story, starring Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray, was an immense success and garnered several sequels with equally star-studded, teen queen leads, including Selena Gomez, Lucy Hale, Laura Marano and Sofia Carson. I have been following the films as each gets released. Despite their incredibly cheesy and predictable nature, they have all been a lot of fun. As a big Pretty Little Liars fan, Lucy Hale’s rendition has been my favorite, and although released in 2011, I still listen to the three songs from the film frequently and know every word.
When I saw A Cinderella Story: Starstruck announced, I was immediately excited for what would follow: a set of new songs and a launch pad for rising star, Bailee Madison. I first watched Bailee in 2011’s Adam Sandler film, Just Go with It, and assumed she was playing a much younger character than the other films. I was shocked to see she is already 21, clearly showing my age.
True to the nature of a generic Cinderella tale, we have an evil stepmother, Valerian (April Telek); self-proclaimed “the it girl of 1987,” she was featured in a hemorrhoid cream ad for a fashion magazine. There is also an evil stepsister, hilariously named Saffron (Lillian Doucet-Roche), and an unconventional evil stepbrother, equally ridiculously named Kale (Richard Harmon). I recognized Richard from the thrilling V.C. Andrews’ films released earlier this year. The story is definitely modern and full of pop culture references with TikTok dances, a spoken word audition monologue of the Full House theme song, and a theatrical rendition of the “I wrote you” rain scene from The Notebook.
We follow Finley (Bailee Madison), who recently lost her loving father and is responsible for the functioning of an entire farm all on her own. Her stepfamily is absolutely useless; they depend on her to cook and clean for them on top of everything else, in a fashion faithful to the tale. She has the “largest bedroom of [them] all,” sleeping outside in a barn next to the horses, as if she were an animal. The hysterical absurdity of the plot is what makes it worth watching. Like a traditional Disney Cinderella, she speaks to the animals on the land, sharing her struggles and dreams of becoming a successful actress. Luckily, Billy the Kid the Musical is about to film in their small Idaho town, and the production is looking for local actors to fill the cast. As long as Finley finishes all of her daily tasks, Valerian will allow her to audition with the rest of the family, sans Kale who plans to become the manager to lead actor Jackson Stone (Michael Evans Behling).
Upon completion, Valerian insists that she must first take her only friend and beloved pet pig, Jon Hamm, to the butcher. To subvert this request, Finley tries to leave Jon Hamm with her friend, Jerry, but he is temporarily on break; she is forced to sneakily take him with her to the movie set. This little pig is definitely my favorite character and brings a Babe element to the plot; he comes in clutch at the climax of the film. However, Jon Hamm initially ruins her chances at a role in the film, as he becomes loose and destroys the set.
She is banned from the set by incredibly sexist director, Trevor (Matty Finochio), and is only successfully cast while crossdressing as a man she names Huckleberry Finn, an ode to the classic Mark Twain character. The character names in this film are absolutely bonkers and hilarious. Clearly, there are notes of She’s The Man to follow with the Huck/Finley swaps and romantic interest confusion with co-star Jackson. Trevor states, the “chemistry between [them] on camera is magical.” There is also a lovely feminism angle in the bickering between Trevor and female director, Bernie (Karen Holness).
The only element I truly found lacking was in the music, as I have grown attached over the years to Lucy Hale’s soundtrack. Perhaps this is a matter of personal preference, as the songs lean more country than pop. The film introduces three new songs performed by Bailee: “My Own Story,” which is reprised in the tail end of the film, “Something in the Water,” and “Stars Align” in the credits. “Something in the Water” was a lot of fun, and I will probably listen again, but sadly none are as iconic as Hale’s “Bless Yourself” or “Make You Believe.”
This is far from an original film, but it is definitely a mindless break from the stressors of life. It is really hard not to smile at its cringey, yet sweet jokes. The movie is most likely targeted toward the younger pre-teen crowd, but millennial fans who have been following the films over the years will definitely enjoy it as well. Warner Bros. shared this film with me for free so I could review it, but I definitely would have happily checked it out either way. A Cinderella Story: Starstruck reaches for the stars in a digital release on June 29th and will be available on DVD on July 13.