A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this story is set in motion when an earthquake kills the young heroine's father. The filmmakers keep it short, simple, and, off-camera except for some shaking in the little girl's bedroom. Though exaggerated, outlandish, and meant to be funny, Sam's evil stepmother and stepsisters are mean and insulting to her -- some very young or sensitive kids could be disturbed by their behavior. Cartoonish action includes lots of clumsy falls, a careening car, and some stepsister brawls. There's a bit of mild profanity ("hell," "damn," "fart," "butt"), some sexual innuendo, along with some low-cut stepmother and stepsister outfits, and a few big-breast and breast-implant jokes. A girl chats with a stranger online, shares personal information, and plans to meet this person; parents may want to remind kids why this is dangerous behavior.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In this Cinderella update, high school senior Sam (Hilary Duff) lives in the San Fernando Valley with her mean stepmother, Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge) and stepsisters. After Sam's adored father was killed in an earthquake, Fiona made her sleep in the attic and work in the family business, a diner. Sam dreams of going to Princeton but needs Fiona to pay for it, so she follows orders and takes verbal abuse. Sam gets support from diner manager Rhonda (Regina King) and best friend Carter (Dan Byrd). And she has an online relationship with a boy she meets in a chatroom for Princeton hopefuls, unaware that he's Austin Ames, student body president and star quarterback. He does not know she is "Diner Girl" Sam, so unworthy of notice that she is all but invisible except when the cool kids make fun of her. Sam's secret email pal invites her to meet him on the dance floor at 11, at the Halloween dance. And so begins a magical story about Sam's magical encounter with the prince of her dreams in which she leaves behind ... her cell phone.
Is it any good?
Girls will love this fresh, funny, and sweet, update of the Cinderella story, and it might win some fans among their older siblings and parents, as well. Duff has a winning personality and makes a lovely Cinderella, sensitive, smart, honorable, and devoted. She knows what she wants and is willing to sacrifice her present happiness to get it.
The always-welcome Regina King is a pleasure as the godmother-equivalent who provides more than a dress, and Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show) makes the most of a one-note character as the evil stepmother, especially when explaining that her serene expression is the result of Botox. Austin's efforts to find his Cinderella and Sam's struggles with Fiona go on longer than they should, but there is an old-fashioned happily-ever-after ending for everyone who deserves one, especially the girls in the audience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what made it possible for Sam to hold on to her dreams and her self-respect despite Fiona's efforts to destroy them both.
What was it about Sam that made her stepmother and stepsisters feel so threatened?
How does this movie compare with the fairy-tale Cinderella story? Or with other princess movies?
Families can talk about why it's a terrible idea to chat with and make plans to meet a stranger online.
- In theaters: July 16, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: October 19, 2004
- Cast: Chad Michael Murray, Hilary Duff, Jennifer Coolidge
- Director: Mark Rosman
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, High School
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild language and innuendo
- Last updated: January 13, 2020
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