Shakespeare loved mistaken identity as a plot device. So did Mark Twain, whose Prince and the Pauper trading-places premise has been duplicated in countless films, among them, uh, "Trading Places." And "Monte Carlo," a fluffy little film from Thomas Bezucha ("The Family Stone"), deals with mistaken identity that's milked for all it's worth. It's about a penny-pinching high school graduate who's been saving for a trip to Paris with her friend and finds that three's a crowd when her father insists that she take along her annoying stepsister to give them a chance to bond. But just as the money runs out, Grace is mistaken for a spoiled, filthy-rich socialite . . . and she decides to take advantage of the situation.
"Monte Carlo" stars Selena Gomez, which instantly suggests that the intended audience for this romantic comedy is ‘tweens and teens who dream of going to exotic locations, living the life of a jet-setter, and finding romance with a hunk of a guy. It's a getaway, see-how-the-other-half-lives sort of film that's a younger flipside version of "Roman Holiday." But it doesn't have the depth or the charm of that Audrey Hepburn classic, relying more on a formulaic plot that's sweet-as-dimples and pure escapism. And it rewards young viewers with enough endorphins to feel good for a fortnight (sorry, having mentioned Shakespeare I had to use at least one archaic word). Stepsisters who can't stand each other become BFFs over the course of 109 minutes, and all three of the females who go to Paris conveniently find someone who could be the one. That's not much of a spoiler, because you know early on that this is a happy fantasy of a film in which any travails are the sort that you know will be somehow resolved. More gum-popping than jaw-dropping, it's the kind of light entertainment that Elvis used to make.
According to an RWA reader survey, 78.4 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008, and last year romance fiction sales nearly hit $1.4 billion. Who am I to say that the romance genre is inferior to any other? The audience is out there, and it's the same audience (albeit a younger one) that enjoys movies like this. My ‘tween daughter ate it up, and the part of me that used to love old Elvis romantic musicals as a kid found "Monte Carlo" not nearly as sappy as it could have been. Which is to say, I kind of enjoyed watching this with my daughter. The film was shot in Paris, Monaco, and Budapest, so there's plenty of visual interest. Gomez is likable enough as the lead--even if she's less believable as the haughty socialite--and she gets solid support from Katie Cassidy ("Melrose Place") and Leighton Meester ("Gossip Girl"). A bonus, for "Glee" fans, is that Cory Monteith is part of the cast, playing the same sort of homespun slow-thinker he does on that hit series.
Rumor has it that Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts were initially going to star in this film, but the producers decided to go in a younger direction. Smart move, because the plot, a fluffier version of "Three Coins in the Fountain," seems better suited for a younger crowd. It's rated PG for mild language, but really is squeaky clean otherwise.
"Monte Carlo" has an appealing layer of film grain that nicely complements the rich, warm color palette and the location shots designed to evoke a world most young American girls can only dream about. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50-gig disc is a good one, with no artifacts and only a little noise in some outdoor backgrounds. But I suspect the audience mostly cares about the look of the film: It's bright and colorful and glitzy and richly textured. There's a nice amount of detail, and black levels are strong enough to provide a strong foundation. "Monte Carlo" is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is also solid, with a standard DTS-HD MA 5.1 doing the job. It's not a film with a rowdy soundtrack, because most of the background music and the score is meant to support the mood of the scene. One exception is a clubbing scene, when the bass finally comes to life. Meanwhile, there's just enough ambient sound to remind you that the rear speakers are working. In other words, this is a sweet film and the audio supports that tone. Additional audio options are Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
This Blu-ray comes with a Digital Copy on a second disc. In addition to watching it anywhere and everywhere, young fans will delight in a 10-question "test" to see which of the three young women they're most like. Everything else is short and sweet. There are seven deleted scenes that run about a minute each, a six-minute feature about the guy-candy in the film, a six-minute feature on the clothing, another one on the European locations, a conversation among the stars in which they talk about their characters, and a hairstyle/make-up feature. Rounding out the bonus features are the theatrical trailer and BD-Live access to a "Who Says" music video by Gomez.
It's formulaic, it's predictable, and it's a female fantasy, but "Monte Carlo" hits the mark with its intended audience. Heck, even guys would want to travel to Europe, impersonate a jet-setter, and find romance. Polo, anyone?