Garry Marshall is a director who knows how to peddle cheese. From the Oscar-nominated schmaltz of Beaches (who can forget a tearful Bette Middler singing Wind Beneath My Wings?) to the inane romantic comedy Runaway Bride, Marshall has shoveled so much sugar sweet goodness during his 50-year career that he’s become Hollywood’s official candy man. That said his latest movie, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement -- starring Anne Hathaway and the always-delightful Julie Andrews -- is little more than a self-indulgent trifle likely to appeal to tween girls between the ages of 8 and 12.
Set in the fictional country of Genovia (think Switzerland by way of Burbank), The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement opens with 21-year-old Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) onboard a private jet with her mild-mannered cat Fat Louie en route to the palace she will soon call home. Five years have passed since Mia first discovered she was a princess and now she has returned to her beloved kingdom with a bachelor’s degree in diplomacy and political science to help her assume the throne. Only problem is that Genovian law strictly prohibits an unmarried princess from becoming queen, forcing Mia to choose between a bevy of royal suitors (all decked out in tweed suits and matching ascots), before entering into a weeklong courtship with the dashing yet dull Andrew (Callum Blue).
But like all fairytales especially those intended for romantic young women who believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Prince Charming really does exist, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement offers a readymade love triangle with an adorable aristocrat named Sir Nicholas (Chris Pine), who threatens to steal the crown from Mia should she fail to marry Andrew.
Of course what happens next won’t come as a shock to viewers over the age of 12 or anyone even remotely familiar with Marshall’s filmography. The problem with a movie like The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is that in order for it to work, the audience must lower their I.Q. and lose themselves in a series of bad jokes and never-ending pratfalls. Had Marshall and screenwriters Shonda Rhimes (Crossroads) and Gina Wendkos (Coyote Ugly) not compromised the audience’s intelligence, reining in lighthearted antics -- particularly the scene involving a bridal shower where all the guests must compete in a friendly game of mattress surfing -- and showed Mia developing into a responsible, self-confident woman rather than an awkward, love struck diplomat, consumed by passionate angst, Princess Diaries 2 might have succeeded without contradicting its all too familiar theme of female empowerment. But they didn’t, instead giving viewers a corny, dumbed down fairytale, complete with a second-rate script that garners pre-teen laughs from gags involving a disapproving poodle and a gay fashionista (Larry Miller from the original Princess Diaries) with a penchant for avant-garde hair.
Still, Princess Diaries 2 does offer some magic courtesy of the phenomenal Julie Andrews, who performs a brief but memorable song and dance routine with former Cosby kid Raven-Symoné. As for Hathaway, she does her best to add a plucky sense of earthiness to her role as a fish-out-of-water princess, trying to abide by royal protocol. Unfortunately, she never allows her character to become anything but a common klutz, making Mia less of a queen-in-training and more of a beautiful, well-dressed lady who looks a bit like someone that might reign supreme.
Bottom line: If royal romantic comedies are your thing, pick up a copy of Roman Holiday. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is a sequel not worth revisiting.
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