Drew Barrymore as Cinderella? What a perfect fit for an update, like when Alicia Silverstone did a 1995 modern-dress version of Jane Austen’s Emma in Clueless. But wait. Ever After doesn’t step a toe out of the sixteenth century. Director Andy Tennant shot the film in France, with fairy-tale costumes by Jenny Beavan. Luckily, Barrymore is not the kind of actress who’d settle for a musty retread. The last time she and Tennant worked together, she was a hellcat Lolita in his TV version of The Amy Fisher Story. Barrymore’s take on Cinderella is more Betty Friedan than Brothers Grimm. No prince would mistake her for a docile dolly.
Let’s start with her attitude. As the orphaned Danielle, Barrymore is willing to take just so much shit from her stepmother, Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston). Danielle doesn’t pine for a fairy godmother to solve her problems. Good thing: The script by Tennant, Susannah Grant and Rick Parks doesn’t give her one. Danielle makes her own miracles, though she does get sound advice from Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey) — you heard me — in handling her stepsisters (Megan Dodds and Melanie Lynskey) and Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), a handsome snob with a thing about servants; he recoils in horror when he finds out that Danielle is one.
Enough remains of the Cinderella myth — masked ball, glass slipper — to please purists. But it’s the feminist spin that makes Ever After mischievous fun. The radiant Barrymore energizes Cinderella with a tough core of intelligence and wit. And Huston is a devilish delight, wringing laughs and a grudging sympathy from a role usually caricatured as pure evil. Shake off the cobwebs. These sisters are doing it for themselves.