Friday, July 8, 2011

Royal Mixup: MONTE CARLO

What makes Monte Carlo such a surprisingly enjoyable squeaky-clean family comedy is its low-key, laid-back approach to its mild farce. It’s a fantasy European vacation involving beautiful scenery, pretty young ladies, fashionable young men, glamorous clothes and accessories, and a central case of improbable mistaken identity, but the movie never makes too much of an effort to point out the fantasy of it all. It’s a sweet, disarming production that moves along pleasantly, genially, and allows the audience to simply enjoy the warm, relaxed comedy of it all.

Up-and-coming young actress Selena Gomez, notable in last year’s Ramona and Beezus, has a sense of ease on camera that places her firmly ahead of her fellow Disney Channel alums of the Miley Cyrus ilk. There’s never a sense that Gomez is straining to play at the comedy or the charm of the film. No, she just settles into the right groove and works the moods perfectly well. She plays a girl who just graduated high school and who, after saving her money and receiving a graduation gift from her mom and stepdad, is off to spend some days in Paris with her best friend (Kate Cassidy), a twenty-something high school dropout who works with her at a local diner. At the last minute, they’re told that Gomez’s recently added college-aged stepsister (Leighton Meester) will be tagging along as both a bonding experience and as a covert chaperone.

The girls zip off to France and find that they’ve selected the worst tour possible, one seemingly designed to not allow visitors the chance to actually look at Paris. They race through the Louvre so fast that they have to be coming close to breaking the record set in Godard’s Band of Outsiders, leaving the trio no choice but to dash down the corridors to catch up. When they finally take a moment to breathe and look out over the city, getting their first chance to just simply marvel at the beauty of it all while at the Eiffel tower, the bus leaves without them.

Lost in the city and caught in the rain, the girls stumble into a fancy hotel to dry off when they discover a spoiled British heiress (also Gomez) who is getting ready to ditch her scheduled charity trip to Monte Carlo. Upon emerging from the lobby bathroom after attempting to towel off their hair, the trio are spotted by hotel staff and whisked into a luxury suite and eventually given their airplane tickets for the next day. The heiress is nowhere to be found and the resemblance is so close (it’s a dual role for Gomez, after all) that these Americans abroad are about to get an all-expenses-paid weekend of Gallic glitz and glamour so long as the mistake isn’t caught.

Though sitting atop a shaky premise, director Thomas Bezucha, who also co-wrote with three other credited writers, keeps the proceedings light and frothy, never trying too hard to convince us of its veracity and never once patronizing its target audience. The relationships between the three main girls feel real and are teased out in ways that are quieter and subtler than you might expect. Gomez handles the double role convincingly with plenty of charm while Cassidy and Meester have little arcs of their own that unfold with a convincing patience. All the while, Michael Giacchino’s jazzy score and Jonathan Brown’s sunny cinematography help keep the film in a nice balance between fizzy and frivolous with just enough weight to keep the admittedly far-fetched events at least somewhat grounded.

It’s exactly what you’d want from a summery family comedy. Well, maybe not you specifically, but it’s certainly more than I expected from this one. There’s enough low-key farce to keep things hopping and enough chaste romance to keep the tweens in the audience swooning. The actors are fun to spend time with, the scenery is lovely, and the plot bumps along with a likably unhurried quality refreshingly devoid of heavy-handed moralizing. This is not a great movie, but it’s sweet and amiable and in this case that’s enough. It tells its story with a dose of relaxed charm that was unexpected enough to win me over.

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