The Princess Diaries

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The Princess Diaries

Whether working in television comedy (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley) or film (The Other Sister, Runaway Bride), director Garry Marshall has always been eager to pander to the lowest common denominator. In Marshall's world, the gag is king, character and plotting are irrelevant, and no problem is so traumatic that it can't be solved by an upbeat montage sequence, or a few sage words of advice from Hector Elizondo. The Princess Diaries finds Marshall bringing his sensibility to another trite variation on Pygmalion, this time with Anne Hathaway as a spunky teen who suddenly discovers her father was a prince and she's next in line for the throne of a small European nation. Though understandably chagrined at being lied to by much of her family, Hathaway reluctantly agrees to take princess lessons with royal grandmother Julie Andrews, a process that culminates in Hathaway receiving a Tammy Faye Bakker-style makeup job more suited to a Sunset Strip prostitute than an aspiring monarch. As Hathaway learns the intricacies of waving, standing up straight, and behaving with benign condescension, she finds herself increasingly alienated from shrill best friend Heather Matarazzo, whose performance here is twice as grating as her turn in Welcome To The Dollhouse, and nowhere near as memorable. As might be expected from a film teaming the director of The Other Sister with the screenwriter of the self-improvement-through-skankiness epic Coyote Ugly, The Princess Diaries has no interest in logic or continuity. The characters' behavior is glaringly contradictory, when not downright incomprehensible. Andrews, for example, views Hathaway's gawky antics as horrifying and repellent, except, of course, when she finds them delightful and charming. Similarly, Hathaway is depicted as sensible, loyal, and down-to-earth, until she ditches her best friend and her best friend's hunky-yet-soulful brother to pursue a smarmy, transparent jock. It's as if Marshall rolled dice before each take to determine each character's motivation. Hathaway emerges from the wreckage unscathed, coasting on her fresh-faced charisma and appealing presence. The Princess Diaries bodes well for her career: If she can survive this saccharine concoction, she can survive just about anything.