Makeovers and M&Ms: how does The Princess Diaries look 15 years later?

Being a princess never looked so boring.

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It’s 15 years since The Princess Diaries first hit cinemas – 15 years of singing the Genovian national anthem, “SHUT UP!” at inappropriate occasions, and dreaming about foot-popping kisses. It’s such a monumental occasion that even Anne Hathaway marked the event with an Instagram.

 

But with reports of a Princess Diaries 3 in the works – how does the classic shape up under the glare of modern daylight? I re-watched to find out.

We open with Krystal Harris’s “Supergirl”, a classic of the genre (guys, she has a magic piano). Our hero, Mia Thermopilis, is gathering up her things and heading out to school. What other movie would begin with a girl sliding down a fireman’s pole in her own house while her mother asks her if she’s feeling confident. Of course she feels bloody confident; she’s sliding down a fireman’s pole!

Anyway, at her posh private school, posh children abound, leaving their posh bikes and posh scooters outside without even locking them, because who cares, they can just get another, right?! Mia’s best friend Lilly jabbers away while Mia stares creepily at a cute couple making out: who Lilly refers to as “Jerk and Jerkette” (Josh and Lana). So far they are being judged for committing the crime of “being sexy”.

It’s debate day, and Mia gets sick on stage: the schoolchildren seem to delight in sudden illness, because this is apparently the funniest thing that has ever happened.

Inexplicably, we are now at a rock climbing centre, which is apparently Mia’s part-time job, but it never appears nor is mentioned again at any point in this movie, and all she does there is climb rocks (I thought you paid to do that, not got paid to do it) while chatting to her mother about her schoolwork and her mysterious grandmother who has requested Mia’s presence.

Over at grandma’s house, Mia’s in for the shock of her bloody life. It’s here that we first meet Clarisse (Julie Andrews), and she is basically the perfect mix of regal, haughty and well-intentioned. This scene includes two of the greatest in cinema history: no, not the infamous “Shut. Up!!!!” but two lesser-known gems: “Please don’t crush my soy nuts” and “This is bigger than orthodonture”. Classics. Anyway, the Queen reveals herself, and Mia is extremely unhappy to learn that she is fucking riiiiiiiich.

As an aside: it is totally batshit crazy and completely wonderful that they invented an entire fictional country for this movie. Genovia sounds like a dreamland: endless pears, a badass national anthem, random ill-equipped teenagers at the head of a divine monarchy. What could go wrong?

So, Mia agrees to attend princess lessons until a grand ball and then she will make a decision over whether or not to accept the title of princess. Meanwhile, her creepy neighbour continues to note down everything she ever does, which is never resolved.

Mia is chauffeured to school and we get some more wonderful screen time with Joe, light of my life, love of my heart. “You know you look like Shaft?” Lilly asks him. “Yes,” comes his simple reply.

Joe jokes about the idea of the girls being dead in the back of his limo. Which is kind of creepy considering he is the secret service stranger driving their care. But who cares. It’s Joe.

The kids at school are all still laughing about vomit. They literally cannot get enough chunder jokes. They are basically the Gap Yah guy.

In her first Royal Act, Mia throws a softball at her PE teacher’s head, which is truly the work of socialist utopian rebellion I admire in a princess. It seems like she might flunk gym, the greatest possible social humiliation a teenager at an American high school can endure.

Mia and Lilly are scooting home from school. “At least your Dad’s still alive,” Mia mutters to her best friend when she mentions her difficult relationship with her father, like the supportive shoulder she is. Lilly tops this in the friendship stakes by responding, “Hey! I thought you’d gotten over that – it’s been, what, two months?” *F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme plays*

Cut to band practice with Lilly’s fit brother who inexplicably plays a keyboard covered in M&Ms. Is this where his MOR rock gets its truly distinctive edge? Only time and posterity will tell. While girls gaze lovingly at his floppy hair, Mia gazes lovingly at her car. Same, Mia. Men will only disappoint you. Best to stick with the automobiles.

In her second Royal Act, Mia dismantles a patriarchal alabaster nude in her grandmother’s home, forcing the statue to suckle on its own disfigured finger. Suck on that, Western ideals of femininity! She then walks into the living room where Clarisse rigorously scrutinises her every body part and discusses how it can best be altered to conform to societal norms of female beauty. I guess we’re playing the long game.

The walking montage! One step away from “I’m just going down to the basement!” *bends knees*, and hilarious to this day.

In the next few days, Mia also learns how to sit, how to dance, how to wave, and how to change in the back of a limousine while a terrible cover version of Itty Bitty Pretty One plays and her driver makes adorable comments like, “I’ve never put on pantyhose but it sounds dangerous.” And that’s all before we get to the all-important makeover scene.

Her beauty artist dubs her eyebrows “Frida and Kahlo” before plucking them to pieces, something which would get you fired from any photoshoot in 2016. He also puts lots of hideous make up on her (including blue eyeshadow) and straightens her brilliant hairstyle. Basically, the 2016 plot of Princess Diaries 3 would probably see Mia desparately attempting to claw back all the things she lost in 2001. Try harder, Pablo. (Thank God for his assistants though, who do some badass eye-rolling when Pablo attempts to mansplain cucumbers).

So far, “being a princess” consists entirely of “letting other people dilute your wicked sense of style and spending a lot less time with people your own age”. It looks terribly, terribly boring. I truly forgot how dull royalty seems in this film.

A new day begins, and it’s time for the greatest moral lesson of The Princess Diaries!!! Smarting from Lilly’s mean comments about her hair in the limo, Mia wells up. It’s Joe to the rescue. “You should know that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” he tells her, and I start bawling in the back of my own, (fictional) limo, with my own (fictional) chauffeur-cum-therapist.

This is a busy day for Mia. In one morning, she has a screaming row with Lilly, tells her about her royal predicament, sits a pop quiz on the French Revolution and lands herself a date with Lilly’s older harmonica-playing, stare-y brother. Phew. I’m exhausted.

But it’s not as busy as her next day, when, at school… the paparazzi show up!!!!! Finally, some glamour to add to proceedings. Sandra Oh turns up as the school’s headteacher and fawns over Mia and Clarisse with a lack of dignity that should be strictly reserved for mere mortals fawning over Sandra Oh, if you ask me.

But before long we’re back to stuffy old rooms with stuffy old people. Mia is at a state dinner where not one person has anything of interest to say. Here, a random subplot begins about a couple who are after Mia’s crown, but it never really goes anywhere. This scene does contain the best aside of the movie, though: “It was for a feminist group in Scotland called Tarts for Tartan.” SIGN ME UP.

Mia crawls under the table, trips someone over, and the whole night descends into the most disturbing series of fake laughs ever witnessed on camera. Yet more reason never to become a princess.

Mia and Clarisse spend the day at the seaside. We learn that Clarisse doesn’t carry change: “It's not appropriate for royalty to jingle!” Then they talk more about boring bloody duty, and the film continues with its self-effacing, nationalist message. On Mia’s father, Clarisse explains: “The love he could have for one person or even two could not make him forget the love he felt for his country and his people.” Forget your loved ones and your children, your country is all that matters!!!

Mia crashes the car that her lover seemingly hasn’t fixed properly into an oncoming tram. (I feel like Michael genuinely might be trying to kill her.) After smoothing over the incident, Clarisse waves to the tram and says, “Bye, trolley people!” which is amazing and basically the Genovian equivalent of “Bus wankers!!”.

Michael is still playing the harmonica like an imprisoned civil rights protestor as he observes everything Mia does from a distance. Not. Creepy. At. All. Meanwhile Lana’s orange boyfriend Josh asks Mia out on a date, so she reschedules her plans with Michael. Cue some music that literally says Too many feeeeeelings / Emotions running away with me.

Back at home and it’s the excruciating “foot popping” conversation, which sounds like an unfortunate pus situation but is actually something Mia desires will happen when she has her first kiss. I cannot watch this scene without cringing. Someone save me.

Josh takes Mia on his boat, which is actually called: the Josher!!! They look hysterical. I cannot get over this look.

The paparazzi surge over the beach party and capture a night of utter debauchery, and the one interesting evening Mia has had since becoming a princess (one half-hearted kiss and the audacity of a princess on the beach in a towel). In the process, Josh is revealed as a complete and utter nightmare, as if his weasley orange features weren’t a big enough giveaway.

Back at school, Mia is a laughing stock. Even this girl, tragically born upside down, is mocking her.

But Mia and Lilly have a heart-to-heart while shootin’ some b-ball, relaxin’, all cool.

Mia completes her third Royal Act of hitting Josh in the balls with a baseball, and invites Michael to the ball instead. Her fourth Royal Act is to viciously attack another student with ice cream, which she isn’t punished for because Sandra Oh is biased towards princesses. I feel so conflicted.

Mia dithers about being a princess or not on the night of the ball, and when her car breaks down in the rain, is reduced to a child weeping in the foetal position singing softly to herself. I feel like she might not be cut out for this princess thing after all. Meanwhile, Michael, who wouldn’t accept Mia’s heartfelt apology or her invitation to the ball, is finally won around by some M&Ms on a pizza. Wow, this kid really loves M&Ms.

Mia gives a speech while sporting some classic Nineties wet-look hair, and adorns it with a wonderful tiara. The Prime Minister signs the national anthem (GENOVIA. THE LAND I CALL MY HOME, GENOVIA. GENOVIA. FOR EVER WILL YOUR BANNER WAVE.) and Mia puts a nice dress on. One very shady newsreader notes: “no longer does MIA stand for Missing in Action”, but everyone has a nice, restrained dance, and Mia looks happily into the sunset to begin her nice, restrained life. Awh.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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