So after months of resisting, I finally gave in and watched Ever After with my sister. I had no idea this simple re-telling of 'Cinderella' could be so bloody. It's grand. [Spoilers for a movie that's 17 years old. ]
So young Danielle, a quaint French peasant loses her saint of a father (played by Jeroen Krabbé), the day after he brings home a wife. Bonus points to the eight year old girl who could say lines like "You're a husband now" without shooting him a swarthy wink or following it up with "Go! Get thee to your marriage bed! I want brothers!"
Poppa "My left arm hurts that's never good" De Barbarac falls off his horse, Danielle and Rodmilla run to him. He spends his last moments focused on his daughter, which Rodmilla will never forget, nor forgive the slight. SIN: Fatally ignoring your own health.
Can we talk about Rodmilla for a bit? Anjelica Huston does so wonderfully with this, frankly, dog's breakfast of a script that she deserves a special award. She elevated the material by being part of it. Her Rodmilla could have just been vain, greedy, ambitious, petty, and cruel; and she was vain, greedy, ambitious, petty, and cruel. But she also carried an emotional wound for a decade (she appeared to care at least somewhat for 'Ow ow my arm I think I'll be fine'), and it was clear from the get go that she was a mother who'd do anything for her daughters.
Well. One of her daughters. Marguerite is her precious gem; Hufflepuff seems scarcely worth mentioning. Hufflepuff's defining traits (at first) seem to be that she eats, and that she is timid. For these UNSPEAKABLE SINS, she is cast aside for her older, blonde, not-actually-thinner-but-her-dress-is-tighter sister.
Also, it's clear from the start that Rodmilla is the one stealing her own fancy stuff and selling it off. This is not a mystery, so much as painfully obvious. If blaming the servants for her own bullshit wasn't enough to earn your hatred, she sold off a man named Maurice to slavery/indentured servitude; continuing the trend that fairy tale french dudes named Maurice cannot catch a fucking break. SIN: Greed.
Then there's Danielle. Free Spirit!Danielle who concusses royalty with hard fruit, walks about without a chaperon, mangles an English-but-supposed-to-be-French accent, steals kites from Italian legends, I mean c'mon. How am I not supposed to love her?
In the course of a few days, she's able to completely turn around Prince Henry, whose early defining traits are his teenage rebelliousness, and his hair. He survives being brained with an apple and falling off a horse, the resulting concussion can explain the fact that he may or may not recognize Danielle the next five times he meets her, in costumes of various quality. I mean, these two characters are the only two who seem to have cracked a book anytime in the last decade, if you don't count monks or classical Italian artists who are old enough to be their wacky, kite-inventing grandpa. So yeah. It's a match made in... somewhere.
Three different people worked on the script, so I don't know WHO to blame, but one of them deserves dirty looks (I'm talking a big ol' stink-eye) for inventing Pierre LePieu.
Ugh. This fucking guy. WHY, RIFFRAFF. DID YOU NEED THE MONEY?
Guy swaggers into town with a small pack of sycophants— at least one of which had to also have been a gypsy because extras cost money you guys— and totally comes on to Danielle, who could not be less interested. Rapey LePieu "admires her spirit" and totally offers to buy her, or something. Because that's page one, line one of the medieval sleazebag guidebook. If Captain "Whoops it's Act Two You Guys Time To Add More Tension and Obstacles" LePieu had any dimension at all beyond lots of money and the pointiest pointy beard in all of of France (I believe it's called a D'artagnan), color me surprised.
HE IS NAMED AFTER A CARTOON SKUNK. A CARTOON SKUNK, I MIGHT ADD, THAT ACTUALLY SOUNDS FRENCH. I— okay. I'm changing topics. I'm starting to see red here. SIN: Being obvious.
Rodmilla's scheming continues unabated. She plots, she connives, she flirts shamelessly on the street with a Page played by Toby Jones, who was overshadowed by Philip Seymour Hoffman when he played the same Page in a better version of the same movie. Toby Jones is totally into it, so he betrays the royal family by revealing privileged information, stealing from the Queen, and setting things up for Rodmilla to profit from it.
Last time I checked, that shit fell under the umbrella of TREASON. So I guess it's okay then when Gustave, friendly, skinny Gustave (played by Stan Shunpike, er, Lee Ingleby), straight up murders him.
You think I'm kidding. Sir or Madame, I am not.
Gustave finds a heavy clay pot full of dirt and drops it from a great height, straight on the Page's head. Killing him instantly. There are several things wrong with this.
1. Gustave has never laid eyes on the Page before, and knows nothing of the blackguard's villainy.
2. The dude was taking a leak, so his dignity in death is minimal, if it remains at all.
3. Gustave steals his clothes to sneak into the costume party, so he robbed a corpse, possibly leaving it in a humiliating state if he didn't put away Lil' Toby first.
4. It was a costume party. "Look at me, I'm dressed like a peasant" could have prevented all of this.
"But Casey," you say, "He didn't die. He was just hit in the head with a harmless clay pot, ha ha." Harmless? That thing was medieval pottery, not the simple brown fragile crap you can get at home depot, designed to break. This thing was heavy, full, and dropped from at least fifteen feet, onto a dude whom we never see nor hear from again.
It would have been simple to show the Page, ONE more time, a bit dizzy, with a bandaged noggin. Easiest thing in the world. But no. Nary a sign of him for the rest of the picture. Because Gustave— friendly, innocent-looking Gustave— crossed his path. Sin: Murder.
In his purloined, no doubt blood stained Page's outfit, Gustave goes in search of Da Vinci. He faints on meeting him (or who he thinks is him). OR! Does the cold reality of what he's done to the poor Page finally catch up with Gustave, and it's too much for him? The scene cuts short before the bloodcurdling screams begin: "SOMEONE'S MURDERED THE PAGE!"
Hufflepuff goes to the party and spends the entire time camped out at the buffet table, while DRESSED AS A HORSE. Have some self-respect, Huff. She stumbles into a fellow with no discernible flaws or traits, other than he seems kind, and he, too, eats. He is also dressed as a horse. So that happens.
More rom-com horseshit pads out the story long enough for the Prince to realize he loves Danielle after all, while a crying, clearly-not-into-it Princess Gertrude is dragged kicking and screaming to the altar. Is she sad about marrying someone other than the man she loves? Or have rumors reached her of people in the castle disappearing, and she doesn't wish to share their fate?
Since whipping Danielle is not enough physical abuse, Rodmilla sells her off to LePieu. (I cannot begin to tell you how much I hate my fingertips for actually typing that sentence.) He tries to manhandle her back home at what I would SWEAR is the same castle from Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, but I can't back that up. She grabs a sword, gives him a really deep cut I can only pray gets infected, and spouts off some exposition about how her dear departed "Boy maybe I should lie down" Papa used to teach her to fence. Typically we like to have our Chekhov's Skills introduced before they're used, but this movie is already so muddled I'll give it a pass.
The Prince arrives. He and Danielle get married. Rodmilla and Blonde Daughter wind up as lowly servants— which has some truly distressing implications about how the Royal Family see their employees. Anyway. They fall in a vat of dye I trust is highly toxic. Hufflepuff gets her man. Gustave continues to live as a free man, despite there being no statute of limitations on murder.
This issue has been pressing on me for a straight week, and only now do I feel the weight of it leaving my shoulders. Thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.
Casey Jones is an author and screenwriter. He's killed off plenty of characters, sure, but at least he acknowledges when it happens, and the dastardly crooks get some comeuppance.