Movie Review: Monte Carlo
By Ryan Mazie
July 1, 2011
Let’s face it – you don’t need Oscar-winning actors to make a successful romantic comedy. What you need are A-list charmers, and Monte Carlo has three of them leading the way. Unfortunately, the other aspects of the film have as much allure as a cross-Atlantic flight seated next to the bathroom.
Disney teen Queen Selena Gomez stars as Texan waitress Grace. Humble as the pie she serves to her fellow high school classmates (who inexplicably dislike her), believes a self-funded trip to Paris after graduation will magically transform her life. With her co-worker and best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy) and spiteful stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) tagging along, they unfortunately find nothing illuminating about the City of Lights.
Hitting every comedy cliché on their French excursion (The tour guide is awful! The room looks nothing like the brochure! The electrical outlet causes the town’s electricity to bust!), Monte Carlo finally hits its stride about a third of the way in when the girls stumble upon the snooty British heiress Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also played by Gomez). Resembling Grace to a T, the trio overhears the rich girl’s plans of ditching her planned weekend charity auction for the beach with a friend. With some coaxing and misunderstanding, Grace impersonates Cordelia and the three get whisked away on a multi-million dollar adventure in Monte Carlo.
While it is amusing to see the girls pratfall into the lap of luxury, the script is spinning on all of its cylinders for an end goal. There is no real villain or much at stake. Instead, we get a series of scenes where Grace must think on her feet to pass off the Cordelia impersonation – fortunately often for a laugh.
Director and co-screenplay writer Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone) brings out the beauty of Paris (even in a hustle) as well as the elegance of Monte Carlo; however, pacing is not his forte. The movie never feels even. Scenes are either breathlessly rushed through or tediously drawn out. This lack of a steady speed caps the maximum comedic effect in some of the scenes for the timing is out of whack.
With four people besides Bezucha credited for writing, it is easy to tell that the film has many fingerprints on it. The mix between the drama and comedy is uneven, and Grace’s stance on the impersonation constantly flip-flops.
Based off of the novel Headhunters by Jules Bass, the film originally was planned to star Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman (who has a producer credit), who would pose as wealthy women in Monte Carlo to marry even richer men. While some of the DNA of the original plot is still there, this younger-set and tamer tale lacks the edgy bite needed to truly take off. But then again, this film is not being marketed to those looking for an edge.
Sitting in the press screening for Monte Carlo, it was remarkably clear that I am not the film’s targeted demographic. And if the little girls' applause at the end of the movie told me anything, it is that it hit the mark it is trying to appeal to. Counterprogramming at it’s finest, Monte Carlo is for those this Fourth of July weekend who do not want to see robots dueling in Transformers 3, yet are too young to recognize Larry Crowne stars Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.
Transitioning from TV to movies, The Wizards of Waverly Place star Selena Gomez is the brightest spot in Monte Carlo. Endearing and hitting her comedy marks without overacting them, Gomez is the relatable center to the otherwise preposterous imposter plot. Likable without being sugary sweet, Selena also manages to do a 180 as Cordelia, a quite challenging role since she rarely speaks, using her subtle sneers and glares as fierce commands. Switching from a Texan accent (she is a Texas-native) to a posh British dialect with seeming ease and consistency, Gomez impressively plays a quasi-third role – Grace as the fake Cordelia. Changing up the accent to a slightly higher register, the little details she takes to differentiate the three characters are impressive.
Katie Cassidy (Gossip Girl, Melrose Place) gets the easiest laughs as the southern belle Emma, while Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl, The Roommate) dutifully plays the “Mom” role, wagging her finger at her two counterparts every step of the way.
But don’t forget, Monte Carlo is a romantic comedy, and for every girl there has to be a guy. The most recognizable of the men is Glee star Cory Monteith as Emma’s longtime lover who would rather stay grounded in Texas than take flight in Paris. Making their stateside debuts are Luke Bracey as an Aussie outdoorsman who slowly cracks Meg’s worrisome shell and Pierre Boulanger as a wealthy French hotel heir who falls in love with Grace under the impression she is Cordelia.
The young cast as a whole elevates Monte Carlo from a skip to a rental. It is a shame that the talented teenage crew was not given something better to work with. The film might truly have been a breezy summer hit, but instead we get a middling travelogue.
Predictable, but not entirely passable, Monte Carlo seems like an impostor itself. The film looks classy, lavish, and well put together. But underneath the rich exterior is a poor plot that lacks the energy to support the nearly two-hour running time.
While the girls splurge away on their exotic retreat, you’d be better off by saving your money on a stay-cation, renting Monte Carlo when it arrives on DVD.
5 out of 10