Wednesday, August 31, 2011


We see a shot of the Eiffel Tower.  The tour guide says, "Welcome to Paris."  A title appears on screen, telling us this is indeed Paris.  Subtlety is not one of Monte Carlo's strengths.

Neither is presenting characters whose arcs are not preordained from the first time they appear on screen, creating a scenario in which the protagonists are particularly sympathetic, nor building momentum to a farce of a finale of that depends upon people entering and exiting doors at the worst time possible.  On the other hand, though, it does have characters who do—predictable as it may be—undergo change, a prince-and-the-pauper situation that has a minor rebellious spirit by eliminating the willing participation of its wealthier half, and a understanding of basic farce's use of scattering people to generate chaos amid a traditionally classy event.  So it's not all a waste.

It begins in a small town in Texas, where Grace (Selena Gomez) works as a waitress at a local diner with her best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy) and is about to graduate from high school.  The two have planned a weeklong excursion to the City of Lights as a celebration for Grace, and a wrench is thrown into the works when Grace's mother and stepfather (Andie MacDowell and Brett Cullen, who end up as wholly unconcerned parental figures, considering how, due to the eventual series of complications, none of the girls are able to be contacted) decide that Grace's stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) should accompany them.

The characterization is established immediately without any fuss.  Grace blends in perhaps a bit too much to her surroundings.  She encounters a group of her fellow students at the restaurant, and they immediately shoo her away.  Emma is the relative wild-child of the town, a fact established by her status as a high-school dropout, her determination to have a good time on her holiday, and the existence of steady boyfriend Owen (Cory Monteith), who gets jealous when she keeps referring to Paris as the City of Love.  Meg does not get along with either Grace or Emma, because she's the worrywart, the snob, the downer, and, perhaps worst of all, the stepsister they don't want with them while they explore Paris because she'll ruin all the fun.

Co-writer/director Thomas Bezucha twists expectations early on in their arrival (after the unnecessarily repetitive declaration of their arrival) by turning the travelogue aspect into a whirlwind tour from a sightseer's worst nightmare.  Passing up Notre Dame (with an announcement of its appearance given too late), breezing through the Louvre, and staying in a hotel where the room is small and the window has a view of a man in the tub, the tension between the three builds.  The last straw is when their tour bus leaves them behind at the Eiffel Tower (where it's revealed that Emma has a case of acrophobia, which is only referenced one other time, as the trio shambles across the ledge of a hotel, and to no effect).

While walking back to their lodgings, the group stops into a fancy hotel to get out of the rain, and there, Meg and Emma learn that Grace has a doppelganger: a rich brat of an heiress named Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also Gomez).  Soon enough, after some mistaken identity, the three young ladies are off to Monte Carlo in a private jet to attend a fundraiser for a philanthropist and his son Theo (Pierre Boulanger) under the guise of Cordelia.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Grace and Theo hit it off (as she tries to maintain a British accent and appear that she knows how to play polo), and that Meg and Emma meet their own men who challenge their natures (respectively, backpacking Australian (Luke Bracey), whose nonchalant attitude plays quite well against the craziness of the climax, and a prince (Giulio Berruti)).  The fantasy here is not that a girl can travel to an exotic place and wear expensive clothes and jewelry while staying in a luxurious hotel room but that somewhere there's a man who will complete her.  In that way, the movie bypasses one stereotype to move straight to another.
The fantasy goes too far elsewhere, as well, especially when Grace twice makes the "think of the children" argument with success and how simply everything is resolved.  Happiness in Monte Carlo is just a scream, a whistle, or a dimmer switch away.

No comments:

Post a Comment