Try as she might, Stiles doesn't fit comfortably within the framework. Her slightly deep voice has an intelligence to it that physically undermines her attempts to slum. Yet she persists. Unfortunately, I fear the onslaught of Down to You, Save the Last Dance, and now The Prince & Me has left Stiles a little stunted and worse for wear. She's spent so much time in the teen ghetto that even when she emerges in an allegedly grown-up movie like Mona Lisa Smile, something feels off. An aura of routine hangs in the air, and other actresses upstage her. Stiles may, in real life, resemble her character in The Prince & Me: smart, down-to-earth and good-humored. It's a tribute to the thinness of her starring roles that she still manages to come off awkward, even fake.
She's not a bad actress -- witness her successful side career as a go-to gal for Shakespeare remakes like Hamlet, O, and the aforementioned 10 Things (how odd for an acting career to reach its perfect apex in your first starring role). There's a clever nod to her Bard-heavy past in The Prince & Me; she plays Paige, a serious-minded college student who excels at science but can't stand Shakespeare. And who better to teach her about Shakespeare than Eddie (Luke Mably), a slacking hunk who also happens to be the Prince of Denmark on extended holiday.
And so The Prince & Me indulges in Hollywood's fantasy of choice for teen girls, a modern-day princess story. At least, it eventually does. This is a short movie that feels like two long ones: a limp romantic comedy and a wan romantic drama. Both are directed by Martha Coolidge, who brought such energy to cult classics Real Genius and Valley Girl, but none of her outsider sensibility is remotely at play in The Prince & Me. The script hits upon a few broadly funny ideas, like the fact that undercover Eddie's butler (Ben Miller) must shack up in a dorm, posing as a stuffy roommate. To the film's additional credit, the revelation that Eddie has been keeping his royal identity a secret from Paige is not treated, by the film, as occasion enough for a climax.
Even in the face of a relatively implausible setup, though, this is a movie that never pushes hard enough, never launching into the comedy of the situation with abandon. It's funny that Eddie returns from Thanksgiving break with Paige to find his butler addicted to videogames, but dousing the butler with cold water is no kind of punch line. I guess the movie is aiming for something else, but if I'm watching a fairy tale, even a semi-realistic one, I prefer punch lines.
By the way, have several dull young English women reported their love interests missing? I think I have a lead: They're all in America, romancing young ingénues. Luke Mably is this month's Matthew Goode (Chasing Liberty), and the thought of blandly "charming" makeshift rogues like this filling even half of a calendar sends shivers down my spine. And not the good kind.
Would it send the good kind of chills down your spine to learn that the story's outcome depends on finding a balance between dreams, responsibility, and love? Then boy, is this the movie for you.
DVD extras include a commentary from Coolidge, deleted scenes and gag reel, and a handful of making-of documentaries.
The prince and tree.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 21st February 2006
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
IMDB: 4.2 / 10
Director: Martha Coolidge
Producer: Mark Amin