Many a teenage girl, struggling with feeling ugly and out of place, dreams of a fairy godmother who will transform her into a princess and take her to the ball. For Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway), a gawky 15-year old, it's a living nightmare when she discovers she's the only heir to the throne of Genovia, a fictional country between Spain and France.
Mia is a socially awkward, painfully shy girl whose greatest wish is to remain invisible. Public speaking makes her vomit. So when her first meeting with her grandmother (Julie Andrews) reveals that she's really a princess, she's terrified.
At the urging of her mom Helen (Caroline Goodall), Mia agrees to wait to decide whether to take the throne until the country's Independence Day ball in a few weeks. That leaves just enough time for a complete makeover and etiquette lessons, which give Andrews and Hathaway room for a lot of fun. As she transforms into a glamorous princess, Mia must decide whether her new identity leaves room for her old outcast friends, and indeed, who she really is, or wants to be.
The Princess Diaries is filled with clever little touches and funny one-liners, and only occasionally goes for the cheap laugh at the expense of logic. Still, the movie falls short of its potential. The profusion of storylines leaves the film unfocused.
Is the story about Mia's interactions with kids at school? Gaining acceptance with the popular crowd and then endangering her real friendships? Her relationship with her absent grandmother? Learning to be graceful and rule a country, without ending up in the tabloids? A romance with a guy who noticed her when nobody else did? Discovering her own identity and gaining self-confidence?
Screenwriter Gina Wendkos, who adapted Meg Cabot's novel, should have chosen a few to develop more fully.
Hathaway has the looks for the part, with a Julia Roberts smile, and a knack for physical comedy. Andrews is at her regal best as Queen Clarisse Rinaldi, and we yearn for her character to gain more of a foothold in the film.
Add to this hip music, terrific outfits, and stunning locations, and you've got an inoffensive two hours at the movies. Preteen and teenage girls especially will enjoy the Cinderella fantasy. For me, I'll stick with Andrews' original Pygmalion story, My Fair Lady.