It’s never easy to take a classic premise, like the one from Roman Holiday, and give it a modern twist. But in The Prince and Me -- the new romantic comedy starring Julia Stiles and Luke Mably -- that’s exactly what director Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose) tries to do, infusing this age-old fairy tale with a unique, new perspective, despite a weak script, filled with cheesy one-liners and a clichéd conclusion.
Set in Wisconsin, The Prince and Me opens with an overworked student named Paige Morgan (Julia Stiles), racing through the bucolic backwoods of Manitowoc to her best friend’s wedding. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the crown Prince of Denmark (Luke Mably) jets through the streets of Copenhagen in his mum’s BMW, racing a fellow blood blue to a dusty roadside racetrack, where he’s photographed kissing two Danish beauties. Of course, this wild escapade leads to an unexpected media blitz, landing Edvard on the cover of every newspaper in Denmark. Still, his parents, the King (James Fox) and Queen (Miranda Richardson) of Denmark, try to reason with their headstrong son, lecturing the skirt-chasing playboy on royal responsibility. But Edvard -- ever the obstinate lad -- insists that it’s high time he left Denmark for America, so he can attend college like a normal student, and hopefully, romance a bevy of Midwestern beauties without getting nabbed by the paparazzi.
Unfortunately, when Edvard arrives at the University of Wisconsin, inquiring about an impromptu peep show, like on “Girls Gone Wild,” an insulted Paige douses him with water, thwarting his collegiate fantasies. The next day, Edvard and Paige meet up again in chemistry class, where they are paired as lab partners. Still reeling from Edvard’s immature antics, Paige decides to pardon the dashing, young Prince in exchange for a study session on Shakespearean sonnets. But as the two begin to work together, reciting lines from Hamlet while doing laundry, they connect and sparks fly.
Once that happens, The Prince and Me has a hard time deciding which way to go. Director Martha Coolidge does her darndest to avoid the typical misogynistic fairy tale, allowing her heroine to evolve beyond the parameters set forth in Cinderella. Then, caves in favor of a conventional climax, where everyone, including the dour King and Queen, live happily ever after. But this corny, tacked on ending reeks of compromise, like some Paramount bigwig took Coolidge aside and told her: “Look Marty, we need to really sell this film to our target audience (teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 16), so whittle down this ridiculous theme of female empowerment, add in a funny scene where the Prince competes in a lawnmower race, and kick the romance up a notch.” After all, who wants a fairy tale where the would-be Princess opts to save lives in the jungles of South America, when she can marry the man of her dreams, become a royal subject, and have a glamorous life, like Princess Diana?
Still, Stiles manages to keep things fresh, delivering a dazzling performance as the independent beauty torn between love and career. A literature student at Columbia University, Stiles is at her best in a scene where she quotes Shakespeare, passionately speaking the words of the Bard as though she were once again starring in a modern-day adaptation of Othello. However, it’s British newcomer Luke Mably, who literally rides in on his white horse and saves The Prince and Me, winning over female fans with his keen wit and disarming charm, like a real Prince.