Paige (Julia Stiles, “Mona Lisa Smile”) is a college girl in Wisconsin focused intently on her future. Eddie (Luke Mably, “28 Days Later”) is the prince of Denmark, and isn’t ready for his future role as leader. After viewing a commercial for “Wild Girls of the Midwest,” Eddie and his butler, Soren (Ben Miller, “Johnny English”), decide to head to Wisconsin and try to blend in on the campus. Paige and Eddie soon meet in class, and while his laziness and attitude toward school perturbs the high-strung Paige, she ends up opening herself to the charming, and covert, prince. When Eddie’s royal heritage is revealed, the situation infuriates Paige, but her true feelings bring her to Denmark to confront the future king.
What seems to be becoming a common theme in the movie year of 2004 is the “princess movie.” With Anne Hathaway’s “Ella Enchanted,” and Hilary Duff’s “Cinderella Story,” there will be no shortage of romantic comedies featuring hunky princes and romantic interludes that will send nations of teenage girls into a deafening swoon. “The Prince and Me” doesn’t feature above average screenwriting, or even a clever take on a well-worn idea. Where “Prince” rises above its pedestrian origins is in the filmmaking and the actors, who take this film and truly do the best work they can under the circumstances.
How this usually works is an MTV underling is given his or her big break, and they guide their “Prince” though the routines with little interest in quality, only to survive the experience so they can direct again. However, this “Prince” is helmed by Martha Coolidge, the mind behind “Rambling Rose” and “Valley Girl,” and while she’s had her off years (“Out to Sea,” “Three Wishes”), Coolidge is a veteran of the business, and knows her way around a romantic comedy.
I would venture to say that “Prince” works as well as it does simply because of Coolidge, who achieves what I thought was impossible: a genuinely likable performance from Julia Stiles. Stiles is a slightly cold fish actress; hysterically dramatic and unnatural in almost every performance. Stiles’s Paige is another uptight character that she portrays so very well, but she’s able to play up the romantic thawing of the character with little fuss, and Coolidge keeps Paige from being a complete pill. Her romance with Eddie is soft and sweet, and really comes alive in a terrific sequence where Eddie visits the family farm in rural Wisconsin.
While this is a pleasant film, it doesn’t quite escape the jaws of formula. But while it works familiar angles (the cute meeting, the inevitable break-up, the passionate reunion), it does so in a very organic way. Coolidge doesn’t force convention down the audiences’ throat, but nurtures it from the story. If only more filmmakers knew how to do this! Instead of Eddie’s Queen mother being a dried up, singularly evil figure, her initial distaste for Paige comes from her protection of the Denmark royal ways. And Eddie ascension into his kingly role is handled with honor and respect for his father’s life, not out of whining and shame. It’s quite refreshing to see.
“Prince and Me” ends on a respectful note, as well as an exceptionally goofy one. I get the feeling that out of all the teen girl movies this year (which is an extraordinary number), this will be the one with the most restraint and desire to be thoughtful. I hope I’m proven wrong.Rating: B