I don't know about you, but when I was in high school, there wasn't a brutal, blue-eyed queen bee who spent her days ridiculing the school's one main geek (who, without her glasses, could be quite fetching). Sure, the hallways were filled with more popular and less popular kids, but the lines often blurred. The cheerleaders weren't always blond and idolized. The football players weren't always cruel and arrogant. The smart kids weren't always nerds.
Here comes "A Cinderella Story" to not answer the question. A contemporary reworking of the classic fairy tale set in the San Fernando Valley and directed by Mark Rosman, this Hilary Duff vehicle takes a stab at high school life and purports to connect with teenagers by walking their walk (here teens don't walk, they drive) and talking their talk (here teens don't talk, they text-message).
Duff is Sam, a teen outcast whose only reason for living is Princeton, which she dreams of attending in the fall. She was raised by her loving father, but when he dies in an earthquake, she's left to her hilariously self-absorbed step-mom Fiona (the sensational Jennifer Coolidge), who, in the wake of tragedy, cheers herself up with dad's hefty life insurance payout and profitable diner.
Fiona has two ungainly teenage girls, Gabriella and Brianna--fraternal twins from a previous marriage--and they are the lights of her plastic surgery-enhanced life. Since poor Sam's name ends in a consonant, she's the bottom-feeder of the family. She lives in the attic, serves Fiona poolside, works morning and night shifts at the diner and doesn't get synchronized swimming lessons like her talentless stepsisters--all in the hope that Fiona will send her to Princeton for her efforts.
Sam's only pleasure is to IM, e-mail and text-message her anonymous soulmate, a guy she met online in a Princeton chat room who types things like "the world is full of people pretending to be something they're not" and is a football player who really just wants to write poetry.
The 16-year-old girl inside me tingles.
Sam gets pushed around at school by the popular kids, and spends evenings at the diner, serving the same elite, who, in the most authentic bit of the film, have lovingly nicknamed her "diner girl."
Of all the teen performers out there, Duff has to be the blandest (especially since the Olsens hit the skids). And although her Lizzie McGuire character was awkward and fringe-esque, her post-Lizzie persona (fresh-faced MTV girl) leaves her looking like the unlikeliest outcast in America. Duff needed to channel TV-Lizzie for this role, but instead she gives us milquetoast.
Sam and her cyber-pal (pens are, like, soooo 1999) agree to meet at the Halloween Homecoming Dance. Fiona has ordered Sam to work that night, but waitress Rhonda (Regina King), who has been looking out for Sam's best interests ever since dad died, insists that she go to meet her lovah, loans her a gorgeous dress and buys her a demi-mask. The only stipulation is that Sam must be back at the diner by midnight, when Fiona will drop by.
At the dance, Sam meets her Web wonderboy, and he (as we viewers already know) is none other than the most popular kid in school: dreamy quarterback Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray). Ohmigod, Austin Ames! Of course, Sam is wearing a mask that covers her eyes so Austin doesn't recognize her as diner girl or as any other girl he's ever seen.
Before the two--who have zero chemistry--have a chance to smooch over the Princeton fight song, it's 11:45 p.m. Sam runs off to the diner, leaving behind her cellphone and a mystery for Austin.
Since you probably don't remember how things in the original Cinderella worked out, I won't go any further here with the plot. But if the filmmakers were in any way interested in depicting realistic teen life (which they claim to be), they'd take my advice and end the film like this: Austin and Sam get together. They break up. They get back together. Princeton rejects them both. They get really drunk at a party in a hotel room on graduation night. They both end up at U.C. schools, but different U.C. schools. They say that they're too young to pursue a long-distance relationship and decide to see other people, but still hook up when they're home on winter break. Austin gains a gut and gets early male-pattern baldness. Sam is treated for an addiction to exercise. They both lose interest. The end.
"A Cinderella Story"
Directed by Mark Rosman; written by Leigh Dunlap; photographed by Anthony B. Richmond; production designed by Charles Breen; edited by Cara Silverman; produced by Clifford Werber, Ilyssa Goodman, Hunt Lowry and Dylan Sellers. A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday, July 16. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: PG (for mild language and innuendo).
Sam - Hilary Duff
Austin Ames - Chad Michael Murray
Fiona - Jennifer Coolidge
Rhonda - Regina King