Directed by: Thomas Bezucha
Cast: Selena Gomez, Katie Cassidy, Leighton Meester, Cory Monteith
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
Release Date: July 1, 2011
PLOT: A recent high school graduate (Gomez) travels to Paris with her stepsister (Meester) and friend (Cassidy) only to be mistaken for a rich European tabloid princess.
WHO’S IT FOR?: Fans of Selena Gomez will enjoy watching their pop heroine play two different characters, while swooning to the romance that finds each of the three leads. But Monte Carlo isn’t just for them. This is a film that could be enjoyed by many different age levels. It’s especially a nice surprise for moviegoers who never expect movies starring manufactured pop superstars to be so mature and mindful.
EXPECTATIONS: Especially after the covert work I had done investigating the presence of Selena Gomez (which can be read about here), I thought that more than not this would be like Crossroads: Eurotrip. Of course it will feature shots of France, but it felt like such visuals would come with the wrong spirit. And how many shopping trips would there be? Pillowfights? Zany side characters? Who’s going to lose their virginity?
Selena Gomez as Grace/Cordelia: She does what you expect her to, but is actually more fun than we might have figured. Gomez is an amicable presence as Grace, regardless of how standard her character’s arc may be. She seems to be having the most fun when she adds bits of amusing spunk in her presentation of the snooty alter-ego Cordelia.
Leighton Meester as Meg: A chipped shoulder is difficult to convey without cheese, especially if you played the crazy roommate in The Roommate. But actually, Meester does a fine job here with this aspect, mixing it with a tangible presentation of maturity. She succeeds at giving Meg an emotional mask to hide behind, and we naturally get to see her true face. Meg’s the most complex characters out of the three young ladies, and her transformation is the most touching.
Katie Cassidy as Emma: When Monte Carlo began, this “Texas Barbie” ran the risk of being the film’s weakest character, as her ego seemed to be her prized possession. The script does something more than condemning her for being selfish, as it humbles her in an effective way. Emma makes us realize (yet once again, admittedly) that the joys in life are the most simplest. Like dimmer switches.
Cory Monteith as Owen: No one is going to praise Owen’s character for being the most original of Prince Charmings (or any of the men in this movie, for that matter), but the “Glee” star does contribute his own heart to the movie, clunky Texas accent be damned. His determination to hunt down Emma before she is swept up by “the City of Love,” or even worse, Paris’ materialism, is notably sweet. For Monte Carlo’s audience members with simpler swooning objectives, Monteith’s character certainly fulfills them.
TALKING: Monte Carlo keeps it simple for its viewers by making most characters at least bilingual, and the appearance of subtitles very rare. (One French person even asks, “Why am I speaking English?”) Although there is a language barrier between the Texan girls and the French, there are only a couple of instances where the French language is butchered for the sake of comedy. As for its romantic offerings, the writers offered the least effort of all with the dialogue in this department. The exchanges (not the moments) can feel a bit standard trying to appease the simple requirements of its genre.
SIGHTS: There aren’t any map graphics, which might confuse anyone who thinks Monte Carlo isn’t in France but is its own country. Still, the mature sense of Monte Carlo comes with an unmistakable style, as seen in jaw-dropping wide shots of Paris and the film’s title location. Style is also felt in the cinematography’s artful framing, which further suggests that true thought was put into this Selena Gomez movie (look for visual motifs of three’s). A brief clip of Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief is watched by Emma, a clever connection to that director’s fascination with mistaken identity, and to the shared love for their locations.
SOUNDS: The sweeping joy of Monte Carlo is defined by its extremely delightful score, as composed by Michael Giaccchino (known for Pixar films and J.J Abrams movies, nonetheless). Giacchino’s score gives the film a beautiful mature sweetness, featuring top-level tunes that sound like Burt Bacharach bossanovas or giddy big band romps. The score’s sweetest piece, titled on the soundtrack “Separate Ways,” is such a wholly beautiful melodic motif that it equals, if not overpowers, the famous melody from his Oscar-winning score for Up. Those eight bars alone make Monte Carlo the best soundtrack heard so far this year. The Monte Carlo soundtrack chooses mature song over teenybopper chart toppers, so we hear the likes of A Fine Frenzy and Mika long before we hear Selena Gomez’s own song “Who Says” (which only plays during the credits). Audiences only have to listen to Monte Carlo to understand that this isn’t just The Lizzie McGuire Movie.
BEST SCENE: I have no problem admitting that I was fully wooed by Monte Carlo during the fireworks scene. There is something beautiful about montages that only use music for sound. Though “La Vie en Rose” has been heard countless amount of times in recent movies, it still has an effect here.
ENDING: The charity of human beings wins in the end, with a special assist by selflessness.
QUESTIONS: This will catch on, right? Other people will love this? Can I please see more movies like this in the future? This movie finally gives me more reason to be fascinated with teenybop movies. Sometimes, they can actually have a brain!
REWATCHABILITY: Absolutely. A second viewing will be an equally sweet experience, as the film’s aesthetics should be just as moving. It’s a movie I’d love to see in theaters again before it’s gone, and I’d be proud to own it if I ever decide to cough up some Blu-ray cash.
From High School Musical’s Sharpay Evans (played by Ashley Tisdale) to those grown-up skanky Bratz dolls in the Sex and the City movies, “princess cinema” has gotten really ugly. The concept of being treated “like a princess” has been taken to grotesque literal heights, with the exception that Sharpay and Carrie don’t have one-night stands with guillotines. Eventually the fantasy overcomes any other aspect of a story, cutting out any shred of soulful decency for the sake of encouraging materialism that makes certain “Cinderella” stories anything but beautiful. Last summer, Sex and the City 2 thought its “maturity” was a good enough excuse for reckless excess, and basketball court-sized closets were the reality. The only fantasy for that film was our recession itself.
In pops the beautiful Monte Carlo, a possessing film with the same audience of anything made by Disney that b*tchslaps its competition. The film contains the obligatory coming-of-age romances which affect each of the three leads (who are quite good as a trio) but without the script losing its mind or selling its soul. Even if the swooning elements of Monte Carlo can become comparably second thought to the movie’s ideas, these moments are sandwiched with a mindfulness for human values, packaged in a spectacular mix of fantasy and reality for its most immediate viewers. Monte Carlo doesn’t get swept up in the glamour of such a wealthy country – there are zero shopping scenes, and only one montage where the girls get glammed up (and it’s charming mini-scene, at that). Grace’s decision to uphold her fake identity gamut even has unselfish ramifications, as she’s ultimately doing it for charity as much as she is for herself.
In the end, Monte Carlo still indulges its viewers with some typical elements, (especially of switch-up movies) but they’re presented in such a sincere tone that such concepts can become fun again. The faking of Cordelia is never boring, even if “she” is participating in something hit-or-miss like a random polo match. The third act is especially great.
On top of these factors, which are especially mind-blowing when considering the vacuous potential of a movie like Monte Carlo (just look at the poster!) the film has a beguiling artistic sense, as seen with its alluring cinematography and touching score. In these ways and more, Monte Carlo proves to have the good kind of European sensibilities, which are fresh, fun, and best of all, don’t make you want to punch someone in the face.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10