Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 30, 2011 4:47 pm 
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The princess becomes a princess

Monte Carlo is a fantasy movie of a familiar genre adapted to the needs of teenage girls, the story of several bosom girlfriends who are transported to a glamorous place, as in the Gidget series. Mixing in another traditional young person genre, one girl is unexpectedly able to adopt the identity of a very rich look-alike, thus coming in for a series of thrilling, if somewhat uneasy, adventures. Unlike Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, the rich girl doesn't get to find out what it's like to be ordinary. There is absolutely nothing new here, but if you're a good sport -- or a teenage girl -- since the settings are lovely and well photographed, the production values are good, and director Thomas Bezucha keeps things moving along smoothly, it all goes down easy, right to the feel-good finale's vignettes set in Machu Pichu, Texas, and Romania.

Monte Carlo doesn't take chances. How could it? But within its strict limits it does everything absolutely right. Is this a good kind of story for young girls to dream about? Well, why not? They need also to experience literature of teenage angst with some intellectual and psychological depth, like The Catcher in the Rye, and some books (and films) that show some of the hard stuff that can happen in young people's lives, like the ones spawned by the gifted S.E. Hinton. But surely it's okay, and a natural part of growing up, to live for an hour or two in a Hallmark dream. It'll sell plane tickets -- and also Hartman luggage and L'Oréal beauty products (several of the product placements in this glossily commercial movie).

Monte Carlo begins in Texas and quickly (if not quite quickly enough) moves to Paris. Besides a trio of popular young actresses, Monte Carlo has a trio of attractive young men to be their love interests, one of them, Owen (Cory Monteith) from back home, the other two an appealing Australian wanderer named Riley (Luke Bracey). Pierre Boulanger of Monsieur Ibrahim, eight years later, is grown up now and is the third romantic interest, a French one, who is shown off a lot in the Monte Carlo episodes, even playing polo.

The star of the show, Grace ("Disney princess" Selena Gomez), is the look-alike, who is mistaken for the bitchy, arrogant, and very rich heiress celebrity playgirl Cordelia Winthrop Scott. (Of course Gomez plays both roles.) Grace is accompanied on her graduation trip to Paris by best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy, of Melrose Place and Gossip Girl) and step-sister and enemy, but finally good buddy, Meg (Leighton Meester, also of Gossip Girl). Emma has left Owen behind, and he's not very happy about that. The other boys come along later. When Grace is suddenly confused with Cordelia, the three learn that if they dare they can get a free, very glamorous trip to Monte Carlo, where Cordelia (who has run off somewhere else) is to preside over an auction for charity whose main event is the sale of a multi-million-euro necklace from Bulgari (another product placement) that she's going to donate. All that's required is for Grace to put on an affected British accent and act haughty. So with some trepidation the three girlfriends, who've been abandoned by their horrible cut-rate tour of Paris, get with the program and wind up in a private plane on the way to the Grimaldi suite at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. Meg has met Riley on the steps of Sacré Coeur. But wouldn't you know? He turns up on the beach at Monte.

This story is so insubstantial I fear it will collapse if I retell it further, and it's meant to be full of surprises, even though it's wholly predictable. I love the way Owen impulsively hops on a plane to Paris to make up with Emma, with nothing but a denim shirt and a gym bag, and he quickly finds the girls' original crummy Paris hotel, where Emma left her cell phone. Monte Carlo freely indulges a teenage version of Sex and the City's passion for dress-up. Along with the Grimaldi suite comes a mountain of expensive luggage with enough gowns for all three and enough makeup from L'Oréal to last a lifetime as well as, wouldn't you know it, the Bulgari necklace! And whenever the real, insufferable Cordelia comes on screen, she's a deliciously hyper-fancy example of dress-up. In fact even posing as Cordelia Grace tends to be a bit doughty compared to the real hard-core high-fashion Cordelia. The men are contrastingly laid back, what with Riley's open shirts and pedal pushers and Owen's denim shirt. Théo (Pierre Boulanger), being the son of a very rich man, wears suits, but he's casual in then and in his polo outfit. Clothes make the gal, but do they make the man?

But don't get the idea that Monte Carlo is all about superficiality. Grace's mantra is a quote from Gandhi that leads her to volunteer work in Romania. Meg learns to be real and upbeat with her new Australian boyfriend, and Emma goes back to Texas to share life with Owen. Having dimmers on the light switches is rich and glamorous enough for her. Who would really want to permanently exchange lives with Cordelia? Like all such trading places tales, this movie embraces its fantasy of glamor only to reject it -- sort of.

Monte Carlo opens July 1, 2011 in the US, August 24 in the UK.

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