Monday, October 18, 2010

Ella Enchanted, Anne Hathaway & Queen

One Saturday evening a couple of weekends back I found one the channels was showing Ella Enchanted, and – just like the first time I saw it – I ended up sitting down and watching it the whole way through. And I realised, watching it the second time, that I like it so much that I can't not write about it.

If you've seen it then you'll know it's by no standards high art; it's a variation on the Cinderella story (hence 'Ella') only in this version, Ella has the additional burden of having been cursed by an incompetent Fairy Godmother (hence 'Enchanted') to always do whatever anyone tells her to do – no matter what it is.

It gets a bit more complicated when the prince has an uncle, currently the regent, who is – of course – evil (he's a tyrant who's oppressing the non-human races) and planning to do away with the prince in order to usurp1 the throne. Everything comes together when Ella attempts to find her incompetent fairy godmother, is saved from ogres by the prince (and, of course they fall for each other), befriends an elf (who wants to be a lawyer), and ends up, when he discovers her curse, getting used by the evil uncle as a Manchurian Candidate-style assassin.

Without going into detail – seriously, see it for yourself; it's worth it – everything turns out all right in the end. It's a family movie after all.

So yeah, it's not the story that's the real draw of this film – it's everything else. There's a real charm to it, in a similar way to The Princess Bride – though without being quite as awesome2. A great cast – including Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley, Steve Coogan (as the voice of a snake) and Minnie Driver – some excellent writing, songs (more on that later) and some well-integrated social commentary.

And, of course, it has Anne Hathaway.

1I don't get to use that word anywhere near often enough. I guess I need to talk about monarchs more often.
2Few are. It's one of my all-time favourites – definitely in my top five.

Anne Hathaway

I first saw her in a US television series, Get Real, that was on late at night a few years back3. It was a while after that that I ended up seeing her breakthrough role in The Princess Diaries (it wasn't something I was drawn to see at the cinema) and realised just how much ability she had to carry a film – considering that it was a movie I don't expect I'd otherwise have enjoyed had she not been in it4.

While I'm not a die-fan who's religiously seen every thing she's appeared in5 – the sequel to The Princess Diaries I avoided since it just didn't appear to have the charm of the original – I have seen most of the films she's starred in: The Devil Wears Prada and Rachel Getting Married, and those in which she had smaller parts like Nicholas Nickleby, Brokeback Mountain and Hoodwinked! (not a small part per se but it was a voice-over).

There are a few I haven't seen but want to – Becoming Jane, Get Smart, Passengers – and one I won't go near even though she's in it, i.e. Bride Wars6.

And yes, I think she's gorgeous. She really is. Just jaw-droppingly stunning. At the cast party for my last show she came up in conversation7 it was remarked that 'she has big teeth'; my response was 'yes, yes she does' – because a) she does, and b) I like big teeth.

But that's not enough; we're talking Hollywood here and simple attractiveness isn't unusual – there's just something else. She certainly can act – her performance in, and subsequent awards and nominations for Best Supporting Actress for, Rachel Getting Married confirmed that – and just has that ability (star quality, I suppose) to make every scene she's in worth watching.

This I'd already established from what I'd seen her in before. But what I hadn't realised when I watched Ella Enchanted was that she can also sing. A quick visit to her Wikipedia page told me why; she'd been good enough to be in the All-Eastern U.S. High School Honors Chorus, presumably something you don't just walk into.

Obviously this had slipped my mind when I was racking my brain to work out the voice in Once Upon a Time in Springfield the episode of The Simpsons where Krusty is forced to add a female character, Princess Penelope, in order to appeal to the younger female demographic. In one scene Princess Penelope sings part of a stunning version of Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's; I then expected to see a singer's name in the credits and was shocked when I saw Anne Hathaway – at least for a split second until I remembered what I'd heard and read.

Oh, and I wasn't the only one impressed by that. She won the Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for it.

She puts it all together - grace, comic timing and singing - when she helps Hugh Jackman out by singing with him in the opening number of the 2009 Oscars ceremony; it may be the cutest thing I've ever seen.

And this all leads me to the third topic in today's blog trilogy. If you haven't seen Ella Enchanted you won't know that she sings two songs in it: Don't Go Breaking My Heart (originally by Elton John and Kiki Dee) with the rest of the cast over the end credits and, during the film (at a giants' wedding), Queen's Somebody to Love.

A song I had not heard in many years – but which, a long time ago, I was probably listening to at least a couple of times a week.

Which – rather obviously – brings me to part three: Queen

3Which also featured a young Jesse Eisenberg, currently getting rave reviews for his portrayal of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.
4Though there is one scene where she walks down the stairs of her house past a huge promo poster for Elliott Smith's
Figure 8 album – I was in awe.
5I don't really have actors who I follow in that way. Directors, yes; actors, no.
6I've never been inspired to see Kate Hudson in anything; the only reason I even know who she is is because of
Almost Famous.
7I believe that
Transformers 2 was being defended for having had Megan Fox in it; I disagreed, saying that it was still a piece of shit, and added that Megan Fox pales in comparison to Anne Hathaway. Because, well, she does. Duh.


A while back I wrote about how my musical tastes changed after I was exposed to Triple J and the heady world of indie/alternative music; prior to that I listened to very different music from what I listen to now, and number one amongst my pre-revelation bands was Queen8.

I actually distinctly remember the first time I heard Bohemian Rhapsody; I was a friend's place – out in the back shed where we were could play our nerdy role-playing games in peace – and it came on. I believe my comment was something along the lines of 'What is this? It's like Gilbert and Sullivan, but with guitars9.' I know I'd heard other Queen songs before – I'd actually won a record several years earlier for knowing the words to Radio Ga Ga – but I'd never been struck by one before.

Eventually I heard more Queen and – since this was slightly pre-cd – I got my hands on some copied cassettes, as did the rest of my group of friends. Queen then became pretty much the standard music of our gaming sessions10 and, for me, a major contributor to the soundtrack of my last few years of high school.

When I bought my first cd player I bought four cds; amongst them was Queen's Greatest Hits 1. Eventually I realised there were album tracks I liked as well, and I eventually started to buy albums; by the time I stopped I'd added Greatest Hits 2, Innuendo, The Miracle, The Game, The Works, A Kind of Magic, Live at Wembley '86 and the Flash Gordon soundtrack.

So, yeah – I was definitely a Queen fan. Even now there are only one or two artists whose catalogue I have more of. I remember watching Rage11 one morning back in early 1991 and seeing a video I hadn't seen before; there was just something about it that just screamed Queen, so I said to myself 'this is the new Queen song', and it was, Innuendo. Oh, and I hadn't heard it either – I don't know if it got any airplay, but even if it had it wouldn't have been on any radio station until well after Rage started playing it.

Since the exposure to the wider range of music which would eventually shift my tastes was still a few years away, I was still a Queen fan in 1991 – though slightly less so than before; by then they had been supplanted by another hugely successful UK act, Def Leppard12.

But Queen were still important to me and, as such, I will always remember November 24th as one of the saddest days of my life. It's one of those very few of what psychologists call 'flashbulb memories' that I have; I was in the car with my sister-in-law and the news reader said [something like] 'Freddy Mercury, flamboyant lead singer of Queen, has died of complications from AIDS'.

I did not take the news well. Yes, I cried – even back then I took my music seriously – though there were mitigating circumstances: the car I was in at the time was about two hours' drive away from Bowen, (my home town) because I was leaving town, leaving the only place I've ever lived, along with my life and my friends – so I was, as you can probably imagine, in a fairly emotional state. I probably would have had a bad reaction had it not already been one of the worst days of my life; the terrible timing made it all that much worse.

Still, I had other things to think about – a whole new place to live (Maroochydore, on the Sunshine Coast) and explore; going off to University in a few months' time – so I didn't exactly spend too much time mired in melancholy. And while the walls of my college room featured at least two Queen posters – the iconic one of Freddie in the yellow jacket and white singlet, and the 'four heads' shot from the video of Bohemian Rhapsody – I eventually found other bands to listen to.

8Not as lame then as you might think. Since there wasn't any truly good music available, liking Queen wasn't really frowned upon. Seriously.
9It probably wasn't quite that witty, but it's my anecdote. Oh, and I knew Gilbert and Sullivan because my parent had a box set on LP.
10There was also Meat Loaf. But that's another story. Oh, and Genesis – but that's as much as I'll admit to.
11For the non-Australian readers: Rage is an iconic music video program. See here.
12Oy. I know I'm going to regret admitting that. I don't know what I was thinking, I really don't.

The memory remains

But a fondness for the music remains. I react whenever Queen is referenced in popular culture – e.g. not all that many weeks ago, on an online forum, I was praising the cleverness of the Queen jokes in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's collaboration Good Omens – or if a Queen song is played or covered in a film or on television, like it was (so appropriately) in Moulin Rouge when Ziegler sang The Show Must Go On.

So when you make a film that combines an excellent, quirky concept13 like Ella Enchanted, cast Anne Hathaway in the lead, and then in it have her sing a great cover version of one of my favourite Queen songs, it's going to have some impact.

But why wonder whether or not I'm making a good call? See (and hear) Anne Hathaway singing Somebody To Love and judge for yourself:

13The film, though, is considered a less-than-impressive adaptation of the original book – which I find a bit strange; perhaps I should read it and find out why.


  1. Just so you know, the original book of Ella Enchanted shits all over the movie.

  2. Thanks, Sophie - I'll have to find someone who owns a copy and borrow it. I'm fairly sure my borrowing it from a library would put me on some kind of watch list...

  3. I got given a mix tape when I was 16 that had Somebody to Love, (You're my) Best Friend AND Love Bites on it. Apparently you would have quite liked it! :-)

  4. If you're in love with Anne Hathaway, you're probably entirely right to stay away from Bride Wars. Right away. :)