Los Angeles Times

'The Prince & Me'

Times Staff Writer

Once upon a feminist time, stories about princes on white horses were verboten unless the prince looked like Alan Alda and was super-sympathetic to the female orgasm. Times and feminism change, however, and these days, a woman can have an advanced degree and a shining knight as long as she absorbs a few life lessons on the way to her happy ending. Indeed, such is the moral of "The Prince & Me," a blandly diverting, chastely conceived and grammatically challenged fairy tale for our bland, chaste and grammatically challenged age.

Directed by Martha Coolidge from a screenplay by sitcom veterans Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, and Katherine Fugate, the story hinges on the improbability of a romance between a Wisconsin dairy farmer's daughter, Paige Morgan (Julia Stiles), and the son of the king of Denmark, Prince Edvard (Luke Mably). She's Midwestern blah, working hard to get into medical school; he's Eurotrash banal, plowing hard through the local talent. Her folks radiate pride at her accomplishments, while the royal parents routinely recoil at reports of their progeny's escapades. After Edvard catches a "Girls Gone Wild"-style commercial featuring Wisconsin hotties, he decamps for America's dairy land and — now called Eddie — learns what really makes its women special. Hint: It's not the cheese or, because this is a PG-rated movie, breasts gone naked.

The royalty-commoner fantasy is the stuff of countless fictions — movies as different as "The King and I" and "Roman Holiday" have tilled similar loamy toil — but there's a lot to be said for recycling such time-tested romances. Grace Kelly and Princess Di may not have enjoyed the kind of happy endings that they (and we) dreamed of, but there's no denying the irresistible tug of their stories. Not because dour Prince Rainier and drippy Prince Charles were great catches or because tiaras and pumpkin coaches are all they're cracked up to be. But because everyone — man, woman and everyone in between — dreams of the moment when they can slip on the glass slipper and be whisked into a world of infinite possibility.

Given the setup, then, and the rich history of such fantasies, it's curious that Coolidge and company have an easier, far more comfortable time with the fish-out-of-water angle than with the story's Cinderella trappings. True, there are too many wincingly creaky bits of Eddie's adventures among the hoi polloi, but the racing lawnmowers are pretty nifty and don't come equipped with the usual city-slicker condescension. The actors, especially Stiles — who shows her stuff in an unexpectedly intense tear- and rain-streaked scene — and an amusingly tart Ben Miller as Eddie's valet, prove largely genial company. And it's nice to see a movie where the woman receives most of the attention while it's the guy who loses his shirt.

It's only when Paige heads toward her happily-ever-after that the filmmakers stumble. At the risk of giving away the ending (as if), let's just say there has to be more to being unspeakably rich than a truckload of Harry Winston. When Paige lands in Denmark, she comes face to face with a vision of the good life that's as superficial and soul killing as that in "The Stepford Wives." (Miranda Richardson's Queen comes across as liberated as Anita Bryant.) Paige needs to find her true self, no doubt. But in trying to impart that lesson to the character and all the little princesses in the audience, Coolidge does something rather remarkable — she turns a perfectly plausible fairy tale into a con job.

'The Prince & Me' MPAA rating: PG for some sex-related material and language Times guidelines: Mildly suggestive Julia Stiles...Paige Morgan Miranda Richardson...Queen Rosalind Luke Mably...Edvard/Eddie Ben Miller...Soren Paramount Pictures presents, in association with Lions Gate Entertainment, a Sobini Films Production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Martha Coolidge. Writers Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, Katherine Fugate. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. In general release.

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