Movie review: Monte Carlo (1.5 stars)

Millions of people, mostly women, read Hello! magazine every week for a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. They fuel their fascination with celebrity by surfing the Web, clicking through images of Paris Hilton on a yacht off Saint-Tropez or on a shoe binge in West Hollywood’s Christian Louboutin store.

What would it be like, one might think, to trade places with Paris for a day?

Monte Carlo is director/screenwriter Thomas Bezucha’s answer to that fanciful question. Unfortunately, watching his film is not nearly as pleasurable as imagining it for yourself.

This modern-day fairy tale is built on coincidences, and one case of mistaken identity. Pop singer Selena Gomez stars as Grace, an 18-year-old waitress from Texas, who is travelling in Paris when she is mistaken for British socialite Cordelia Winthrop Scott. Her two travel companions serve as the devil and angel on her shoulders: her stepsister Meg and her best friend Emma, played respectively by Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy.

Meg, who is as prim and schoolmarmish as her navy one-piece swimsuit, discourages Grace from impersonating Cordelia, while Emma, who is superficial and romantic, urges her to eat the 26-pound lobster, take the private jet to Monte Carlo and go to the ball.

Grace, indeed, does it all, but with the enthusiasm of a half-hearted tourist being herded along a historical tour. She has no sparkle, even as she’s being decorated with a Bulgari diamond necklace set to be auctioned off for charity. Gomez gives Grace a sweet, ordinary innocence, but she has no wit, no pluck, no charm; she lacks the charisma and the passion of, say, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (another famed, but more believable, modern-day fairytale).

Grace’s love-interest, Theo, the son of the philanthropist hosting Cordelia in Monte Carlo, is just as bland, except with shaggier hair and a more authentic accent. Young French actor Pierre Boulanger wears this permanent bewildered look on his face that is supposed to translate as either anger, love or exasperation for Cordelia.

This film is allegedly fun, as evidenced by the bubble letters that appear on the screen declaring the locations: Paris, Monte Carlo, Texas. However, parts that are meant to be serious are comical, such as the slow-motion arrival of the three heroines at the ball in full regalia, and parts that are meant to be funny are lacklustre, such as the launch of a polo ball at a buffet table, popping a dozen Champagne corks. There’s no zinger, no “slippery little suckers” comment or shot of Grace’s embarrassed or impressed face.

The zingers, actually, never come in this predictable fable. Meg breaks out of her uptight package with the help of a cute Australian tourist who she keeps running into. Emma stops chasing whimsical dreams when she realizes that what she has at home, a fiancé played by Glee’s Cory Monteith, is enough. And Grace finds herself just as the real Cordelia finds her.

The most recent film that Bezucha wrote and directed, The Family Stone, had smart, colourful characters, not to mention a talented, all-star cast; the plot and character arcs in Monte Carlo can be summarized on the back of a European postcard. You’ll find more twists and adventure in the pages of Hello!

This article was originally published in the National Post June 30, 2011.

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