Thursday, April 23, 2015

In Defense of the Romantic Movie: Why You Should See Cinderella

I left my little people's bedtime duties to my gracious husband a few weeks ago and, somewhat on a whim, went to see the new movie version of Cinderella with a girlfriend. Turns out, movies for children without the children are rather nice. And seeing a movie like Cinderella without the children turns into a chance to spend two hours being completely immersed in child-like wonder and remembering what it felt like to lose myself in a magical story outside of time, which doesn't happen very often now that I'm a boring grown-up.
(courtesy of Disney Pictures)

A friend, whom I adore for so many reasons, recently wrote an articulate article for US Catholic about her experience watching the new version of Cinderella with her 5 1/2 year-old son. Her opinion of the film was that this new version of the familiar story was too full of glitter and sparkles for her taste and was missing that tinge of darkness that, one might argue, gives a fairytale the very slightest tangency to reality. And I get that. But, for me, that ubiquitous element of evil is such a given for every single movie that Hollywood puts out that the lack of it felt genuinely surprising (in a good way) and even something of a relief (for the overly sensitive ones of us out there).

Full disclosure: I love sentimental, romantic movies. (Clarification: Not the ridiculously overdone, impossible-to-relate-to sort. Current culture's definition of a romantic movie usually includes either an over-sexualized, possibly twisted version of romantic love that tends to end with someone dying in a somewhat implausible way (e.g., One Day) OR it's a silly romp with an outlandish story that everyone who sees it hopes will never, ever happen to them (e.g., Knight and Day). And, isn't hoping "it could happen to you" part of the loveliness of a romantic story?

In case you're wondering, when I say the words "romantic movie," I have in mind something like Pride and Prejudice, An Affair to Remember, The Sound of Music, Life is Beautiful, The Young Victoria, Jane Eyre, Shadowlands, Out of Africa, etc. I might even include less classic movies like About Time, Sleepless in Seattle, The Notebook, You've Got Mail, and Notting Hill.

But, as you've probably  noticed, Hollywood doesn't seem to make actual romantic movies anymore. It makes Bridesmaids and Sex Tape in lieu of romantic comedies and weaves weirdly dark stories like Atonement and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby as substitutes for romantic dramas.

And as a person who loves a genuinely beautiful love story and is happy to spend a little time captivated by a romantic tale that transcends the current moment and suspends reality for a couple hours, the new definition of romance in Hollywood film is more than a little disheartening.

And so here we come to the part where I talk about how you should grab up your people (the ones who are old enough to sit still for approximately 105 minutes), fill your pockets with M&M's and Smarties and run to the theater while Cinderella is still playing on the proverbial big screen.

I absolutely won't be able to come close to summarizing the beauty and magic of Kenneth Branaugh's version of Cinderella for you, but I can note a few reasons that this new telling of an old fairytale is thoroughly mesmerizing and worth your time (and a $12 ticket).

For starters, the actress who plays Cinderella is lovely and childlike and believably good, without feeling overly sweet. The affectionate relationship that she and her parents share is portrayed beautifully and evokes a sense of true affection and total trust that is rare in movies. Similarly, the father/son relationship between the prince and the king is warm and kind and sincere. I so want my children to see relationships like these portrayed in the movies they watch and the stories they read, rather than the unbalanced, frenetic family relationships of the characters in most movies and tv sitcoms.

The romance between Cinderella and Prince Charming is simple and innocent in the best ways without the pruriency or overt sexuality normally played out in romantic movies today. Cinderella is demure and wholesome and the prince is respectful but determined in his pursuit of her. It's a lovely picture of an honorable man pursuing a pure-hearted woman as a treasure rather than a trophy.

The last element of this movie that I'll mention is Cinderella's lack of hatefulness or desire for revenge toward her absurdly cruel stepmother and silly, selfish stepsisters. Despite their absolute lack of kindness or love for her, Cinderella forgives them, unprompted and without irony. (And on that note, this is your reminder to bring a pocketful of kleenexes to this movie.)

Instead of a psuedo-romantic story that repeats the same tawdry tale of love replaced by lust and beauty sullied by waste and disillusionment, this movie offers a brave heroine whose goodness and hopeful heart withstand significant losses. If you're hoping for a story that is a slight glimpse into what purity of heart, genuine affection, sincere forgiveness, and a simple picture of redemption can look like, then this film will not disappoint.

I can't help but add a Frederick Buechner quote that I read this past week which, I think, somewhat sums up the story of this girl named Cinderella, and perhaps any good story that has a hint of the gospel in it (which is, in fact, every redemptive story).

"This is the world. Beautiful and Terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid." 

Life is full of lost loved ones, cruel stepmothers, disappointed hopes, and thankless work. But, the truth is that everything is being redeemed, often long before we can see it happening. In the end, all of the cruel and terrible things will be undone and will be replaced with what is good and true and beautiful. Like Cinderella, redemption is at the end of our story, too. And, so, like Buechner said, we need not be afraid.

"Every true story borrows its power from the gospel."  Cinderella is one of those stories.

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