There was a crowd of teenage girls in my Wednesday afternoon, summer-break-just-started screening of Monte Carlo who had clearly never seen a farce before. Every time a character stepped into one elevator and just missed her lost love walking out the other one, they all shrieked with the delighted agony of an audience who just didn't know how things would work out. Of course Monte Carlo is so sunny and generous that even those girls probably didn't doubt a happy ending, and anyone's who's seen any kind of comedy of mistaken identity-- or hell, any Shakespeare comedy at all-- can see right through the plot's mechanics. But this movie is for those girls who haven't seen it all yet, and as a tween dream spin on Roman Holiday by way of Twelfth Night, it does its job quite nicely.
Selena Gomez, a Disney channel star making her break for movie stardom, is the sweet-faced and fairly bland center of the adventure as Grace-- and yes, Ms. Kelly is mentioned later in the film to make the connection quite clear. Grace is a middle-class Texas girl who spent four years of high school saving up her waitressing money to take a big graduation trip to Paris, in the company of her BFF Emma (Katie Cassidy), who's older by just enough that a proposal from her boyfriend (Glee's Cory Monteith) isn't totally out of line. For fairly specious reasons Grace's mom and step-dad force her dowdy stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) to join the trip, setting up both the sisterly sparring and a character in serious need of letting her hair down, European style.
The Paris trip turns out to be a bust, all crowded tour buses and dingy hotels, but wouldn't you know it, Grace gets mistaken for the snobby English heiress Cordelia WInthrop-Scott (also Gomez, very funny), and soon the girls are living large in Monte Carlo, draped in couture gowns and jewels and each courted by men more innocently rakish than the next. Logic is never a strong suit in this type of farce but it's particularly absent here, as Grace is forced to keep imitating Cordelia for the sake of some charity auction "for the children," and one nosy aunt (Catherine Tate) sniffs out the scheme but keeps the secret to herself. All the classic farce elements really take over in the third act, and director Thomas Bezucha keeps all the balls in the air remarkably well, but before then Monte Carlo is all fluffy romance, fancy ballgowns and sunny beaches. Grace flirts with a French prince (Christophe Malavoy), Meg cuts loose with a hunky Australian surfer (Luke Bracey), and Emma learns the true value of the guy she's left at home. Mistakes are made, truths are revealed, and though Shakespeare would have ended it with weddings, the happy endings of Monte Carlo are a bit more chaste.
There's not a whit of anything original in the plot or concept here, but it's remarkably easy not to care. Bezucha doesn't just maintain the breezy atmosphere but adds some real visual style, capturing Monte Carlo not just as a fairytale getaway for three American girls, but a place that's maybe unattainable and a little out of their league. The wonderful, Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino provides a score that seems lifted straight out of a 60s farce; together he and Bezucha make the doggedly PG conflicts of the film feels less contrived and simply a relic from a more innocent, earlier time. The squealing, happy girls from my screening probably haven't seen any of the movies from that actual period, but until they get around to To Catch A Thief, Monte Carlo will do.
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