May 26th, 2021
STARRING: EMMA STONE, EMMA THOMPSON, JOEL FRY, PAUL WALTER HAUSER, MARK STRONG
DIRECTED BY: CRAIG GILLESPIE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
There’s going to be a divide between audiences and critics on what to think about Craig Gillespie’s Cruella. It’s an origin story for the legendary 101 Dalmatians villain Cruella DeVil, a character that nobody really asked for more details on, but as movies are these days, Disney saw an opportunity to turn her life into more than just a need for a fur coat. The reason why I found this Cruella to be better than just a cash grab, and it undoubtedly is, but it’s at least done with powerful professionalism, and larger than life performances from Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. Because of that, and more, Cruella rises above to be devilishly top dog cinema.
We meet 12-year old Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) in 1960’s London, with her single mother Catherine (Emily Beecham), aware she has a brilliant child, but there’s a side to her that’s a bit mischievous. It’s the trouble she gets into that forces the two of them to find a new school, and leads to mother seeking support from the wealthy Baroness (Thompson). But it’s Estella’s curiosity at a big elegant party that leads to a chase by a trio of dalmations, her mother’s tragic demise, which leaves her as an orphaned child on the streets of London. Things fast forward to Estella in her late-20’s (now Emma Stone), living with her skilled pickpocketing friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), looking for a new angle each day, while Estella dreams of becoming a fashion designer for the great Baroness. Her path to that dream takes a bit of luck, but when she finds herself working alongside the royal designer, she learns about the vicious and demanding needs by the master. Perfection is what the Baroness expects, throwing insults at anyone who crosses her, or removing anyone from a room that steals the attention.She’s a wolf in couture clothing. Estella learns from her, but eventually starts to let her Cruella side out, where her plans of revenge merge her grifting and devilish side, in an effort to tear down the fashion mogul for good.
Much like the sets, costumes, and performances in Cruella, everything about Craig Gillespie’s film is big. The inspiration of a Disney-style version of The Devil Wears Prada is blatant, but it’s done with spectacular, invigorating results. The clothing and sets are magnificent, arguably great to the point where it makes Cruella shine. Another factor, that is both annoying and well done, is a never ending soundtrack of 60’s and 70’s popular music. Sometimes the music is too on the nose (We don’t need Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” anymore) and other times it’s brilliant (Thompson’s character is introduced to The Doors “Five to One”, which is perfectly emphatic, and impactful). The screenplay, written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, working off the story by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis, is made for Stone and Thompson to volley their performances back and forth at each other; Along with a fully realized drama about Cruella’s rise out of the gutter to work in fashion, her companionship with the outcasts that take her in, her disdain for the Baroness, and her eventual scheme that chips away at her kind heart. Cruella is better because Gillespie’s direction aims high, with performances that relish in the theatrics, and a production that looks amazing in every frame.
Cruella also has a myriad of problems, where the length is too long for any movie, but here it feels as if Gillespie needed to have a full three acts. It’s because of the runtime where Cruella is victim to the double ending, where it could end with thirty minutes left and we wouldn’t lose the impact. The soundtrack will become overbearing at times, especially with Nicholas Britell composing a score, it seems like using a band-aid to cover up a masterpiece. The majority of issues that arise in Cruella are not detrimental to the enjoyment and spectacle, but hindering it from being perfection.
What’s not missing is that Cruella is a load of fun. The sparring performances of Stone and Thompson are delightfully different. These are characters that are completely against type for the two, where Stone is digging up her character work from The Favourite, while Thompson is channeling her inner Meryl Streep. If awards are to be discussed, it’s Thompson for best supporting actress and all things production for Cruella. The sets, the sound, the costumes, and the colors. Cruella is a surprising visual and performance feast for audiences to enjoy. This movie makes being cruel look like high fashion.
CRUELLA IS IN THEATERS THIS FRIDAY MAY 28TH
3 ½ STAR
Written by: Leo Brady