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by alejandroariera

"Cruel Intentions"
1 stars

“Cruella de Vil, Cruella de Vil, if she doesn’t scare you, nothing evil will.” Who would have thought that Mel Leven’s original song would prove to be so prophetic? For “Cruella,” Disney’s latest so-called reimagining of its vast library of characters and stories, defangs the “101 Dalmatians” villainess that was so perfectly voiced by Betty Lou Gerson in the original 1961 animated classic and snarkily brought to life by a fabulously campy Glenn Close in the 1996 live remake and its 2000 sequel, “102 Dalmatians.” Given Cruella’s penchant for skinning puppies and turning them into coats, the character lends itself perfectly for an almost gothic dark comedy. But as directed by Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”) and written by not one but FIVE writers —script by Tom McNamara and Dana Fox from a story by Aline Brosch McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis— “Cruella” is the kind of origin story that literally takes you to the very beginning: the future villainess’ actual birth. It quickly goes downhill from there.

That half black/half white hairdo that seemed like a fashion statement? Turns out Cruella was born in the 60s with it, the literal embodiment of a duality between good and evil. Oh, yeah, that’s the kind of movie this is. Even her name given at birth by her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) reeks of this literalness as it spoils what Estella/Cruella will eventually become in the world of fashion. Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) is quite a handful as a small child: getting into fights with her classmates, talking back to her teachers and principals, always believing she is right and the world is full of idiots. She is even critical of her mother’s fashion sense.

Catherine decides that a move to London may be best for them but on her way makes a quick stop at a posh country home. Disobeying her mother’s orders, Cruella and her puppy (yep, she has a puppy who she really really loves), leave the car and walk into the mansion to discover that there is an over-the-top fashion gala taking place. Chased by three very angry Dalmatians, she runs outside to find her mother engaged in conversation with a cloaked lady; the dogs rush toward her mother and push her off the balcony which sits right atop a cliff. Losing her mother’s necklace as she runs away from the mansion, Estella and her puppy end up in London where she hooks up with two young pickpockets, Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald) and their dog. She proves to be as good as them in the art of petty theft.

After this twenty-minute slog of a prologue, “Cruella” jumps to the 70s: Estella has turned into Emma Stone, Jasper into Joel Fry and Horace into Paul Walter Hauser (whose cockney accent is five times better than Dick Van Dyke’s in “Mary Poppins”). Their cons and heists are now far more elaborate, allowing Estela’s talents as fashion designer to flourish as she creates one elaborate costume after another for their heists. Jasper manages to find Estella a job at Liberty of London, a posh department store. And here the film’s literalness once again kicks in as Estella’s road to fashion starts at the very bottom: scrubbing toilets and offices while putting up with a rather condescending store manager. She almost loses her job after redecorating one of the window displays but is saved by The Baroness (Emma Thompson), a ruthless, cruel, acclaimed fashion designer who sees something in Estella and invites her to join her company. So far so Cinderella meets Charles Dickens.

We now enter into full “The Devil Wears Prada” mode as Estela becomes The Baroness’ easily dismissible right-hand person whose designs soon rise above the rest of The Baroness’ designers. Estella eventually gets tired of The Baroness claiming credit for all her designs. But war is not truly declared until Estella realizes, after seeing her mother’s necklace on The Baroness, that she was the woman her mother was talking to that night and that The Baroness might be responsible for her death. Estella is now ready to once again embrace and let loose her naughty, rebellious side (black and white hair included). As Cruella, she promises to bring down her now arch nemesis’ empire with the help of Jasper, Horace, their dogs, the gay manager of a clothing store and Anita, a former schoolmate who now writes a gossip column for a tabloid (Kirby Howell-Baptiste as the archetypical black character cast to serve the needs of the white hero/heroine). Cruella stages one outrageous guerrilla-style fashion provocation after another; The Baroness will not, of course, take this sitting down.

As a movie about the fashion world, “Cruella” is definitely not “Phantom Thread” much less Robert Altman’s “Pret-a-Porter”. It ain’t definitely no “The Devil Wears Prada.” Jenny Beavan’s outlandish punk costume designs make for delicious eye-candy but they sometimes get lost in the hurly-burly muchness of the filmmaking. There’s no denying that the two Emmas are having the time of their lives. But we are not. And then there’s the ending at another fashion gala that comes across as a cross between “Joker,” “V for Vendetta” and a Tim Burton film. Hell, I’d much rather Disney had hired Burton to direct this instead of “Dumbo”; “Cruella” is, after all, a much better fit for his gothic sensibility.

Gillespie and his writers neither settle on a consistent tone or know who they are making this movie for. They don’t even know who Cruella is much less what they want her to be: she loves her mom and her puppy; she apologizes for being mean to her thieving comrades; she even adopts those three Dalmatians that attacked her mother! She is all attitude and nothing more. Even Cruella’s voiceover narration is a lost opportunity. She could have been the perpetual unreliable narrator, forcing us to doubt what we see on screen. But maybe that’s too much to ask for in a movie that insists on explaining what we see or are about to see with one needledrop after another or where her last name came from. Her fashion may be punk and the film may take place at a turning point in British society and culture with its massive strikes, piles of trash piling on the streets and a new aggressive sound and lifestyle that defied the status quo. But instead of The Sex Pistols and their brethren, we get ELO, Blondie and a song by The Crash co-opted by corporate America. It’s not enough that each song explains every plot point, including Florence and the Machine’s original song for the film, “Call Me Cruella.”; It’s that Gillespie never stops hitting you over the head and ears with them, song following song following song. He lacks both Tarantino’s and Scorsese’s finely tuned ears and understanding of how needledrops work.

Last but not least, “Cruella” commits the unforgivable sin of treating Mark Strong, here playing The Baroness’ valet, as an afterthought. Well, a plot device, really. From “Shazam!” to “The Kingsman” films, Strong has brought to every franchise-driven studio film a sense of fun and gravitas. You know the movie is in safe hands when he pops up on screen. But outside of delivering a key plot point, he is woefully underused. A wasted opportunity in a film full of them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33011&reviewer=434
originally posted: 05/27/21 12:44:06
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  28-May-2021 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Sep-2021



Directed by
  Craig Gillespie

Written by
  Kelly Marcel
  Tony McNamara
  Steve Zissis

  Emma Stone

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