Just as other girls have their own rites of passage, from bat mitzvahs to Quinceañera, so it is written that every tween sensation is entitled to her own bland princess fantasy: Amanda Bynes got What A Girl Wants, Hilary Duff got A Cinderella Story, and now Selena Gomez, the 18-year-old Disney-engineered actress/singer/whatever, has Monte Carlo. Here, the fantasy is borne of mistaken identity: Gomez, a humble recent high-school graduate from OneTrafficLight, Texas, goes to Paris with two others, gets confused for a snooty bad-girl heiress named Cordelia Winthrop-Scott, and runs with it. This gives her (and the audience) entree into the glamorous world of Vera Wang dresses, million-dollar Bulgari jewelry, polo matches, charity balls, handsome young heirs and princes, and lobsters bigger than the tin roof over a pauper’s head. So far, so enchanting, right?
Yet the biggest of many problems with Monte Carlo is that the fantasy cannot possibly be enjoyed for a second, because the deception looms so large. Gomez looks right in the fancy dresses and jewelry, but there’s the constant danger of being found out everywhere she goes: At those charity events, she’s a little too concerned with the plight of Romanian schoolchildren; at the polo match, she rides Western style instead of the English style expected of snooty bad-girl heiresses; and that shaky British accent of hers flickers like a dying florescent bulb. Beyond that, the audience is asked to like a fresh-faced heroine who’s constantly lying to people—good people, too, like the requisite dashing Frenchman who courts her—and the film ties itself into knots trying to make those lies forgivable.
On top of its busy premise, Monte Carlo takes on more weight by giving all Gomez’s companions their own full story arc. There’s Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester as Gomez’s cold older stepsister, whose stalled recovery from her mother’s cancer death years before gets a start when she meets a hunky Australian backpacker. Then there’s Gomez’s vulgar waitress friend (Katie Cassidy), who has her own relationship problems back home. (Meester and Cassidy don’t get along, so there’s another subplot for good measure.) Monte Carlo finally resolves itself in a farcical climax that at least shows a little energy, but it isn’t enough to overcome the discomfiting tensions and indifferent formula filmmaking that plagues nearly every scene. In every sense, Gomez is just following a script.