Directed by: Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone)
Starring: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Luke Bracey, Pierre Boulanger
While Monte Carlo is three-stars worth of “it’s good for what it is” in its purest form, I also have to guiltily admit that what it is often is not too shabby. There’s no reason for this film—mostly a vehicle to push ‘tween star Selena Gomez into Hollywood stardom—to be as charming as it is. Although I’d never call Monte Carlo a truly good movie for quite a few reasons, it is nevertheless a classy, painless little flick, made for an audience that’s usually talked down to by the studios.
The bulk of the film consists of a modernized rip off of The Prince and the Pauper, with Gomez as Grace, a recent high school grad who’s jetted off to Paris for a few days with her older—and less responsible—best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy, Taken) and Grace’s wet blanket of a stepsister (Leighton Meester, The Roommate). After a few days on a disastrous tour of the city, Grace gets mistaken for an spoiled brat of an heiress (Gomez again) and finds herself accidentally impersonating her. Deciding to play along, it’s only a matter of time before Grace and her friends are caught up in all kinds of high-society goings on.
Where this goes is none too shocking, as various hijinks ensue and hunky guys enter the picture. The predictable plot is actually what holds the film back the most, gumming up the works and pushing the film close to an egregious two-hour run time. Being generic isn’t the biggest sin in this kind of movie, but director and co-writer Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone) lingers too much on the broad comedy and the less-essential aspects of the plot. It’s a pity, too, since a lot of what makes the film transcend the bogged-down plot is Bezucha’s understanding of the story’s setting. Paris and Monte Carlo are bigger stars here than the young ladies in front of the cameras, and Bezucha isn’t afraid to let his characters have moments of honest romance and humanity in this environment.
In fact, the coming-of-age pieces of the story are honest and sweet-natured, while Monte Carlo’s more sentimental, tender moments (like one scene set to Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “La Vie en Rose”) are better accomplished than most adult-oriented romantic films. But Monte Carlo always seems to circle back to the broad comedy and the dull plotting that makes the film falter in the first place. In the end, Monte Carlo is a frustrating movie with more charm than it deserves, but which could been something more. Rated PG for brief mild language.