The Prince and Me

(2004) *** Pg-13
111 min. Paramount Pictures. Directors: Martha Coolidge, Branko Racki, James Spencer. Cast: Julia Stiles, Luke Mably, Ben Miller, James Fox, Miranda Richardson.

The Prince and Me appears to be one of those rare films by which a thoughtful director takes a stereotypical, obvious screenplay and tweaks it into a look at the enduring archetypes we could not shake, if indeed we wanted to shake them. I can't know for sure if I'm selling the film's four credited writers short, but my gut tells me that director Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose) can take the lion's share of credit for The Prince and Me being a pleasant and provocative film.

Newcomer Luke Mably plays Prince Edvard of Denmark. Bored with the workings of his constitutional monarchy and heedless of his father's admonishments about the impending day on which Edvard will assume the throne, Edvard avoids responsibility to lazily enjoy fast cars and fast women. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, college student Paige (Julia Stiles) is all about responsibility, to a fault; her friends must drag her out to enjoy herself before the term and her part-time job kick in. Edvard's trusty valet (Ben Miller) and the Danish royal couple (James Fox and Miranda Richardson) commiserate about their wayward lad, who, spellbound by a "Girls Gone Wild"-style ad flaunting Midwestern hotties, decides to take a roamin' holiday by enrolling at--you guessed it--Paige's school. Soon enough, the two teach each other lessons about life and love.

Yes, it all sounds pretty predictable and sappy. Indeed, it's all three (pretty, predictable, and sappy), but somehow The Prince and Me pulls itself above the usual "little miss orbits royalty" story. Instead of simply telling the basic Roman Holiday story again, however cutely (a la, say, Chasing Liberty) or the first-cousin variations--"girl discovers she's royalty" (The Princess Diaries, What a Girl Wants) or "girl takes a European vacation and meets a hot British guy" (The Lizzie McGuire Movie, et al)—The Prince and Me steps back and gets a bit of perspective on the story's appeal and the potential real-life complications of the enduring fantasy.

Stiles and Mabry are both very good, ably projecting likeable qualities through their first-act flaws, and sweetly embodying love, college-style (a library scene accurately depicts the difficulty of studying with a lover). In one of the film's most surprisingly effective conceits, Edvard tutors Paige in Shakespeare; discussions of Hamlet (the other Prince of Denmark) and the multiple meanings behind even a single line of a sonnet ("The sun itself sees not till heaven clears...") betray the film's loftier intentions about questioning assumptions.

Coolidge displays both the decadence and love of country that royal families represent, though the film certainly errs on the side of embracing monarchy; she also nakedly poses a question to women: here's your fantasy—is this what you really want? Paige's dreams of travelling the world and practicing medicine for the poor are at odds with a life sinking into the lap of luxury as Edvard's mate. The film's final answer will rankle many as too simplistic (and too abrupt), but Coolidge leaves a door wide open for audiences to draw their own conclusions.

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