Godmothered (2020) Review
A SWEET (YET QUITE FORMUALIC) HOLIDAY
COMEDY FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Within the many whimsical natures of fairy tales (both old and new), the character of a “fairy godmother” has always been a fixed point of wonderment warmth and kind-hearted benevolence. Deriving from various parts of fairy tale folklore and legends, a fairy godmother is a fairy with magical powers who acts as a mentor / parental figure to someone, in the role that an actual godparent was expected to play in many societies circle; granting / imbuing a person with something magical. Perhaps the most effect (and famous) iteration of a fairy godmother is to be found in the tale of Cinderella, which was originally created by Charles Perrault of which a fairy god mother character comes and helps Cinderella, a plain / scurry maid girl, to go to a ball to meet her Prince Charming. There have been countless and various iterations / adaptations throughout the years of the fairy godmother in Cinderella, but none is more famous (and most memorable) then in Disney’s 1950 animated film Cinderella, which featured the iconic fairy godmother character and produce the catchy memorable song “bippity boppity boop”. Now, Walt Disney Studios and director Sharon Maguire present a new spin on the fairy godmother character with the Disney+ original movie Godmothered. Does the film find enough “magic” to believe in its whimsical premise or has the “happily ever after” mantra waned in this middling project?
In the magical realm of Motherland, the community of fairy godmothers is both aging and wanning, left with little to do as their need of services has dried up in the modern human world. Their youngest trainee is Eleanor (Jillian Bell), who’s eager and ready to accept an assignment and to become a fully fledge fairy godmother, only to face their leader, Moira (Jane Curtain), who’s getting ready to shut the organization down…for good. Finding a letter from a 10-year old girl who needs help, Eleanor makes her way through a magical portal, with her wand, and begins to hunt for Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) in Boston. Discovering that Mackenzie is now a middle-aged woman, who is trying to keep her head above water in work and in her family, Eleanor accepts the challenge, setting out to find the single mother a Prince Charming using a series of bumbling spells she hasn’t fully mastered yet. At first, Mackenzie, fearful of this new stranger, begins to appreciate her fairy godmother’s perspective on life and love, finding a connection with her co-worker, Hugh (Santiago Cabrera), with Eleanor doing whatever she can to make the match stick and prove to Moira from ending the fairy godmother program once and for all.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Stuff of “fairy godmothers” are the spiritual veins of fairy tales; a sort of mantra to the whole “once upon a time” moniker. It’s hard to say, but you know what I mean. Every time a person thinks of a fairy tale imagery, the whole fairy godmother image pops into mind along with grand a medieval castle, a handsome prince charming, and the whole “happily ever after” mantra (as well as other fairy tale-esque staples). As mentioned, the fairy godmother character has always been connected to the Cinderella story…. regardless of which version, iteration, or adaptation you read and / or see. I think that many can agree (along with myself) that Disney’s Cinderella (their 12th animated feature), the character of the fairy godmother has stuck within the cartoon tale and has become quite a memorable image of how we (as people) imagine the fairy godmother (i.e. kind-hearted elderly caregiver). Naturally, the character has appeared in other variations of the story, but nothing is more famous than the one that appeared in Disney’s Cinderella.
Speaking of Disney….this brings me back to talking about Godmothered, a 2020 holiday rom-com endeavor from the “House of Mouse” studio. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie via online or on any of the various move / film websites that I currently visit. In truth, I actually came across the movie a few weeks prior of writing this review when Disney released the official movie trailer for Godmothered (via online). I was quite surprised by this as the project wasn’t heavily advertised elsewhere as well as the film being scheduled to be released a week and half prior to them (the studio) releasing the film’s movie trailer. From the trailer alone, the movie looked like something that Disney would come up with; playing on the whole “fairy tale meets modern day world” aspect…. much like it did with similar endeavors (i.e. Enchanted and Once Upon a Time). Additionally, the movie looked like a sweet holiday rom-com, which I always do have a “guilty pleasure” of watching every now and again. So, I decided to check out Godmothered on Disney+ (the project was set to be released on Disney’s streaming service and not for a theatrical release) during its release weekend. And what did I think of it? Well, its somewhere between okay and good. While does seem quite formulaic to the touch, Godmothered is a sweet and family-oriented holiday comedy for the streaming viewers out there. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel in its presentation nor its story, but gets the job done within its aim and lightheartedness.
Godmothered is directed by Sharon Maguire, whose previously directorial works includes such movies like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones’s Baby, and Incendiary. Given her background on the success of the two Bridget Jones’s movies, Maguire seems like a suitable choice; approaching the film with a sense of comedic charm and family friendly lightheartedness that’s quite “in-line” with the Disney brand name (if you know what I mean). The result is something that works by Maguire helming this particular project in a way that speaks to Disney’s signature of fairy tales and magic, but also delivers a sort of holiday rom-com within that arena, which creates a cute and fun presentation. What definitely works is in how its all configured, with Maguire generating holiday spirit that seems to hit the right tone for its time of year for its release (i.e. the occasional holiday romantic comedy fest) as well as almost being a somewhat spiritual successor to Disney’s 2007 Enchanted (a live-action film that pokes fun at all the fairy tale tropes). Godmothered seems to do that; finding Eleanor, who is energetic and naïve, whisked into the human world and must learn to adapt to how the new ways of human life, but also to figure out her role as a fairy godmother isn’t exactly what she thought it would be. For most part, Godmothered keeps to a proven formula, which acts as a “double edge” sword (more on that below), but what work seems to be enough to get the movie flowing in a correct way….even if it isn’t exactly original. Plus, the film’s themes, which are again not totally original, are always a welcome one; exploring the thematic lessons of identity, discovering oneself, and accepting change from a system that might seem outdated to modern times. Additionally, Maguire also keeps the movie moving forward at a brisk pace, with Godmothered’s runtime of 110 minutes (one hour and 50 minutes) not feeling that quite long and never gets bogged down in unnecessary sequences.
Presentation-wise, Godmothered keeps up its appearance within the industry standards of comedy endeavor from Disney; featuring plenty of modern-day looks and feels throughout while sprinkling the film with visual fantasy cues here and there. This means that the movie doesn’t go for anything “bold” or anything that’s a visual “feast for the eyes”, but gets job done within its production budget parameters and creates a background setting that the film’s character populate that definitely works for what the Maguire and her filmmaking team wanted the film to have. Thus, all of the main members for the film’s “behind the scenes” crew, including Renee Ehrlich Kalfus (costume designs), Christopher Norr (cinematography), and the art direction team, for their efforts made into movie. Again, nothing really “stands out” to me personally, but what’s presented definitely works. Plus, I do like the film’s score, which was composed by Rachel Portman, compliments the film’s scenes beautifully in a family friendly comedy adventure as well as some of the various Christmas / holiday songs that are played throughout the film.
There are several problems that I noticed while watching Godmothered that, while not making the film feels terrible nor deplorable in its viewing, does hinder the movie from reaching a lofty cinematic potential. Perhaps the most notable point of criticism is the overall narrative story arc that the movie offers. I’m not saying that it is a bad story, but rather it’s quite clear…. right from the get-go that Godmothered borrows heavily on its influence and narrative / plot structure from both Disney’s Enchanted as well as 2003’s Elf of which both movies featured a fictionalize character from a magical realm goes to explore the modern-day world, with a sense of youthful naivete and discover the differences between the worlds. Plus, the usage of theme of “believing” is also heavily implied in both those movies. Godmothered, for better or worse, utilizes those two movies’s narrative beats and thematic messaging that it almost becomes rip-off of some kind as one can easily see the parallels between all three films. While Enchanted and Elf went on to become successful in their own rights, Godmothered seems a like distant stepchild that stumbles in what it wants to achieve. What I mean is that nothing about the movie truly stands to what’s been done before.
Because of this, Godmothered feels quite predictable and formulaic to the touch; creating a film that’s almost like a “feel good” comfort food. It you like that, then the movie isn’t as bad, but I kind of wanted something a bit more…. something a bit more creative, especially from the “House of Mouse” and that it was an original movie exclusively made for the Disney+ streaming service. This perhaps stems from the film’s script, which was penned from Kari Granlund and Melissa K. Stack, which doesn’t really color outside the lines of a traditional / straightforward holiday comedy endeavor and, while that might be good for some, its kind of makes Godmothered feel stale in various parts throughout. Plus, the film’s comedy is a “hit or miss” with some of its jokes and gags. Additionally, I do have to say that many of the various characters in the movie are a bit caricatures, but I’ll explain more of that below. Suffice to say that Godmothered had the potential and could’ve been so much more if both Maguire’s took a few original / creative decisions and / or if the script by Granlund / Stack was a bit more “beefy” into its substance.
The cast in Godmothered definitely plays to the film’s strength, with the cast selection of actors and actresses involved on the project help elevating some of the feature’s shortcomings, which are mostly due to the film’s script handling (as mentioned above). Who definitely “leads the charge” in the movie are Godmothered’s two protagonist characters of Eleanor and Mackenzie Walsh, who are played by actresses Jillian Bell and Isla Fisher. Bell, known for her roles in 22 Jump Street, Rough Night, and Office Christmas Party, has demonstrated she capable of handling various comedy bits in making a memorable stamp on a variety of projects…no matter how large or small the roles is. In Godmothered, Bell does really good job as Eleanor; providing enough positive optimism and youthful naivete in a character that’s quite a “fish-out-of-water” scenario throughout the movie. Bell’s Eleanor is funny and provides warmth for most of the film’s “heavy lifting” parts, which is quite good on the actress’s part. The downside is that the character (as mentioned above) as been done before several times over and makes for rather watered-down version of Amy Adam’s Elisa from Enchanted or Will Ferrell’s Buddy from Elf. Plus, it’s kind of unclear (in the film) as to what Eleanor knows how our modern-day world and what she doesn’t. It’s a bit perplexing and seems vague.
Fisher, known for her roles in Wedding Crashers, Now You See Me, and Tag, falls into the same category as Bell. She’s become widely known for her supporting players roles throughout her career and makes for a fine choice in the role of Mackenzie, a hard-working yet “down of her luck” woman who is having a difficult adult life and is need of a fairy godmother to help her along the way. However, much like Eleanor, the character of Mackenzie is rather generic and has been done many times over again in various rom-com’s out there. Thus, while not original, Fisher’s performance comes as close second as the better performance in Godmothered. Additionally, actor Santiago Cabrera (Big Little Lies and Heroes) does a decent / charming job in playing the role Hugh Prince, Mackenzie’s colleague / slight love interest, while actress Jane Curtin (Coneheads and 3rd Rock from the Sun) plays a small yet effective role as Moira, the head fairy godmother at the Motherland.
The rest of the cast including, actresses Jillian Shea Spaeder (Just Roll with It and OMG!) and Willa Skye (Lazy Susan and The Feel) as Mackenzie’s two daughters Jane and Mia Walsh, actress Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Masterminds and Free State of Jones) as Mackenzie’s sister Paula Walsh, actress Artemis Pebdani (Sex Tape and The Cool Kids) as Duff, actor Utkarsh Ambudar (Pitch Perfect and The Broken Hearts Gallery) as Grant, actress Stephnie Weir (MADtv and Room for Rent) as Barb, and actress June Squibb (Nebraska and About Schmidt) and Carlease Burke (Crowded and Child’s Play) as two fairy godmothers Agnes and Greta, are delegated to minor supporting roles in the movie. All of them are fine in their respective roles and do get the job done in their limited screen time. However, with the exception of one or two, most are basically one-dimensional and are caricature constructs to fill out Godmother’s minor roles.
To prove to all that she is fairy godmother material, Eleanor travels to the modern human world to give Mackenzie her own “happily ever after” in the movie Godmothered. Director Sharon Maguire’s latest film takes a glance at fairy godmothers and how fairy tales’ landscape of “happily ever after” has changed with the current times; promising a holiday comedy romp that’s meant for the whole family to view. While the plot / narrative is rather thin and borrows heavily from several past (and better) storylines, the movie still manages to be one of those “feel good” movies, thanks to Maguire’s direction, tender (yet cheesy) campiness of the story, and solid performances from both Bell and Fisher respectfully. To me, I thought that this movie was good. It wasn’t fantastic and definitely could’ve been better, but, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed the film. Plus, while not perfect, I think its better than Noelle, Disney+’s other original holiday Christmas movie. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “rent it” as it’s good to being at least once or twice every now and again. In the end, while its not the best Disney movie out there, Godmothered is a solid (yet middling) holiday comedy endeavor that’s perfectly fine for a family movie night during the holiday season.
3.5 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: December 4th, 2020
Reviewed On: December 8th, 2020
Godmothered is 110 minutes and is rated PG for some suggestive content