As a proud member of the nostalgia-obsessed millennial generation, I decided to revisit an old favorite film of mine, this time with a more mature and critical eye. It’s been nearly eighteen years since the film’s 2001 release, so I can’t apologize for any spoilers you may find ahead. If you have yet to partake in the joy that is Garry Marshall’s masterpiece for the new millennium, The Princess Diaries, please allow me to explain why you should indulge immediately.
I was six when The Princess Diaries was released and immediately romanticized it along with my fellow little ladies. However, I have been wondering if the film was really the classic piece of American cinema I always considered it to be, or if I was simply remembering it fondly and longing for a simpler time. But several years after my initial viewing, and having seen the film a hundred times since, it has not lost any of that original charm that made me fall in love with it in the first place.
The story centers on Mia Thermopolis, a frizzy-haired, glasses-wearing, unreasonably clumsy teen played by Anne Hathaway. She’s just your everyday high schooler whose mind is preoccupied by boys and school and rock climbing and balloon art and using ice cream as a weapon. We’ve all been there. Her three-story bedroom is located in an old San Francisco firehouse where she lives with her single mother. Typical. And she is a princess of the fictional country of Genovia. Of course. However, if you think the title gives everything away, think again. Mia doesn’t begin the film as a princess. Instead, she’s a very well-spoken teen with a contradictory fear of talking to anyone. She doesn’t even get a diary until about halfway through the film, so don’t worry, there are tons of twists and turns and surprises around every corner.
While it is unfortunate that Anne Hathaway’s career has gone nowhere but down since the original Princess Diaries film was released in 2001 (joking, of course, don’t come for me), at least the gawky teen got a She’s All That- style makeover from Larry Miller out of the deal. The film also stars the less-famous Schwartzman brother as “ugly” love interest Michael Moscovitz, not to mention rollerblading expert/everyone’s first crush, Erik Von Detten, as hunky love interest Josh Bryant. Plus, who could forget Julie Andrews as the Queen of Genovia, where there is not one consistent accent.
Of course, the film also teaches us many things about friendship. Like how ugly people can only be friends with other uggos. Lilly Moscovitz, Mia’s longtime best friend, has no problem with Mia breaking girl code and going after her brother. However, she does get jealous of how much free time Mia begins spending with her grandmother, and how selfish it is for Mia to go and get “pretty” all of a sudden! How dare she! But before you go knocking The Princess Diaries down a couple slots on the list of Greatest Films Ever, try to name another movie that features two high school-aged women fighting over something other than a boy. That’s right, The Princess Diaries not only passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, but also showcases realistic female friendships that, while not always be perfect, are certainly healthy.
Perhaps most importantly, The Princess Diaries taught me that the grass is definitely always greener on the other side, and unless you have a mysterious grandmother running another country who magically appears on your 15th birthday, the rest of us are shit out of luck. Beyond that, though, The Princess Diaries is about Mia’s search for an identity. At first, she refuses the crown and wants to go on living a normal life based on the way she views her own limitations. However, after a failed attempt to kidnap her cat and run away to Colorado, Mia decides that she wants to make a difference in the world and sees that the best way to do it is by accepting a leadership position. Mia finally agrees to accept her rightful place as the heir to the Genovian throne, and in an act of deus ex machina, her fear of public speaking vanishes: she can suddenly walk without causing injuries to herself or others, and she gets even prettier. She chooses the guy who was there for her all along, but above all else, she chooses her family and herself. Go, Mia, go!
Mia’s feminist journey doesn’t end when the credits roll. Three years later, this film would get a sequel, Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement. You see, Genovian law states that a princess must marry in order to become a ruling queen, and besides the duet between Julie Andrews and Raven-Symoné at the all-princess sleepover, Mia’s defiant decision not to take a husband is the most memorable and important moment of the film. The rest of Genovia seems to blow off her powerful feminist stance with a “Why didn’t you just say so?”-type response but I’ll chalk that up to this being a movie geared towards a young audience.
My conclusion: this film and its sequel are equal parts guilty-pleasure nostalgia fest and inspirational hero’s journey. Don’t take my word for it, though. Taking a hard opposing stance, film critic Roger Ebert awarded this film a measly 1.5 out of 4 and the bored mothers on Common Sense give the G-rated comedy a 2/5 where “sexy stuff” is concerned. Are you curious what that’s about? Well, so am I. Go watch the film and please report back.