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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Cruella (2021)

Cruella by Jansumalla
From Disney+, "Emma Stone stars in Disney's Cruella, which explores the rebellious early days of one of cinema's most notorious - and notoriously fashionable - villains, Cruella de Vil...The movie follows a young grifter named Estella and reveals the series of events that cause her to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella." The movie co-stars Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste. It is directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya). Based on the book by Dodie Smith and Disney classic by Bill Peet, the winding road of events that change Estella was plotted out by Aline Brosch McKenna, and Kelly Marcel & Steve Zissis, and it was transformed into a script by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara. After watching the movie, that must've been a journey in its own right.

Matt Neglia, of the Next Best Picture Podcast, said it pretty well when talking about Cruella. When Disney just takes a few characters and lets them do their own thing, these remakes and new origin stories are able to breathe and come out better. That's what happens, after a lot of references are painfully front-loaded into the film. Estella/Cruella (Emma Stone, and Billie Gadsdon and Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a kid and pre-teen, respectively) is born with her signature hair color, teased for it, and she, naturally, retaliates. The many, many marks on her grade school permanent record that are caused by that and other acts of rebellion, create a dalmatian pattern. Luckily, she quickly changes schools. It's absolutely an eye-rolling intro, and I have a bit more to say about why later, but Seifert-Cleveland is doing great work with what she's given, while Gadsdon has, unfortunately, just has one of those front-loading scenes. Cruella's brilliance is quickly shown through Seifert-Cleveland's brilliance, as the early indications of artistic talent and brawling street smarts are mixed with a lot of heart and some deeply buried sorrow. The whole cast really is fantastic. 

Cruella by jansumalla
Cruella, by Jansumalla

A lot of people are saying that if the Golden Globes were airing next awards season, there's a good chance we'd see Emma Stone accepting an award for her performance. I couldn't agree more, as she commands the screen with a blend of wit, energy, and versatility that was quite unexpected. It's not unexpected because of Stone herself. She's always been great, and actions like taking a business card with her teeth shows that she's up for anything, but because of that winding road the movie takes. Her stealing from her boss's private stash before going on a "fashion bender," and later celebrating a victory over a rival designer, The Baroness (Emma Thompson), with a few notes of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" were a few of my favorite moments because they're a couple of the smaller ones in the movie. Stone, the cast, and the crew are able to be a little more loose, although this is always Gillespie's vision.

Emma Thompson's performance benefits the most from that winding road I keep mentioning. The comparisons between The Baroness and Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada aren't cut-and-dry. As the movie goes on, and plots change, Thompson is asked to tap into her own range and become more of a monster than expected. If she started out as a complete cartoon, a large chunk of the movie would fall apart. Instead, she begins as just the right amount of cut-throat. When she accidentally nicks Estella when altering one of Estella's designs, she asks fabrics if that red is a possibility. Maybe it's the paper cuts and hangnails I was suffering from that week because of filing, but it instantly sold me on the character.

A few other people of note are Cruella's henchmen Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry), and The Baroness' right-hand man, John (Mark Strong).  Paul Walter Hauser stole the show in I,Tonya as  Shawn Eckhardt, the "mastermind" who baselessly claimed to be working in counter-terrorism and kept re-parking his car to appear less suspicious to people. Give that character a lot more brains and compassion, but keep a tiny pinch of the self-interest, and you've got one of the best comrades around. Fry also plays a great friend, and I look forward to checking out his other work. The romantic angle between him and Stone is handled really well, as it can be explored down the line in a number of ways that all work. Plus, he doesn't have that pinch of self-interest, and that creates a great dynamic between him and Hauser. Actually a completely different movie where one is the henchmen for the other would be a lot of fun. Mark Strong is an odd case. He's given very little to do outside of delivering some exposition. Because his role is so small, it seems like he was miscast, and he stuck out in the crowd. I really just wish he was given more to do. There are plenty of opportunities, as the story evolves. 

Cruella is a long movie, at about 135 minutes, and to sustain that runtime, it changes plots a couple times. It's a heist movie twice, and it's The Devil Wears Prada once. Now, each change is clear and makes complete sense, but a lot of unexplored character gets sidelined because of it. Some have even said that it's a huge problem because it means that Cruella's mental health isn't properly addressed. I wouldn't go that far. To me, she's just temporarily overtaken by a combo of grief, guilt, and obsession. The reasons why are clear in the opening. I don't think there's anything wrong with what's being said about her, it's just that not a lot is being said in general. For all the great character work, and just work, Cruella is more, but not all, style over substance. That's a real shame. On this subject though, a character named Artie (John McCrea) is under some scrutiny for being an attempt by Disney to pat themselves on the back for being inclusive. McCrea's role is basically to be Cruella's stereotypical gay best friend. McCrea is great in the role, but considering that Disney should've caught up by now and moved past a cookie-cutter portrayal already, it's two steps forward and one step back. Artie runs a second-hand boutique and helps Cruella with her designs. Speaking of designs...

Costumes were designed by Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road and Room with a View), cinematography was by Nicolas Karakatsanis, and hair & makeup was designed by Nadia Stacey. With Gillespie, they all work together to build one hell of a picture, over and over again. Cruella is intensely beautiful, and, naturally, it's at its best when a signature outfit is on display. Most of these '70s-inspired ensembles are worn by Stone, while some that go back to the '60s, according to Beavan, adorn Thompson and were chosen to show her slightly aging instincts. It's those small details that keep the movie freshly in-mind nearly a week after a first viewing.  Hopefully, Beavan's is rewarded with more than only award recognition, since, according to VarietyDisney is officially licensing a Cruella collection with her designs without additionally compensating her. Even smaller details are the ways the camera moves, like when it follows one of the dogs, Wink, as he's exiting a bus. It's such a tight shot, that it seems like it couldn't have been easy to film. The effort was appreciated, as long as the dog had a good time, of course. Plus, there are grander versions of this kind of movement throughout the film. Tatiana S. Reigel assembles these pieces pretty well as the movie's editor, overlooking a couple of hiccups. 

That opening sequence, again, is one of them. The moment young Estella, Horace, and Jasper meet is just very choppy as it just quickly cuts to whatever lines will finally get us onto the real show. This sequence is capped off with a transition to the present that was done much better in Sam Levinson's Euphoria. The shot has purpose, but that's not enough to sell an, excuse the excessive harshness and on-the-nose term for a second, a knockoff. 

The other hiccup in editing is the use of newspaper text and headlines filling the frames in a couple of sequences. It looks good, but there isn't a whole lot of new or necessary info being delivered. It has no real purpose, the shots already look great without them, and time and money possibly could've been put into other parts of the film. That's the unfortunate thing about the movie as whole, it doesn't say much because of the pieces it's cut into.

Each plot and each heist, or heist-like plan, could be an entire incredible movie, and I'd like to see each of them because of the depth that the writers and Gillespie are only able to hint at with a line or short scene. The The Devil Wears Prada part of the movie could stand on its own thanks to Stone, Thompson, and the fresh setting of '70s London. Maybe Disney could remedy that? Fox made The Devil Wears Prada, and Disney bought them, so maybe they could at least arrange a round-table with Stone, Thompson, and Streep, in-character and out, and with some other costume designers and creatives from both movies? At least it's a nice thing to think about and maybe create some fan-fiction around. Cruella will definitely open up some minds that way. It worked on me.... 

Made after watching Birds of Prey and DC's Harley Quinn (Season 1 and Season 2)

Re-skinned after watching Cruella. The morning star was also made along with the original two. Does anyone else want Emma Stone to play an alt-universe Harley?

3.5/5

Plus.25/5 for the artistic inspiration it gave me and has given others. Please scroll up and take another look at those depictions of the character by Jansumalla. She's selling prints of it, by the way. While the audience of kids in my theatre got remarkably quiet after the previews started playing, it wouldn't be a surprise to find out years from now that a fashion designer, or hair or makeup artist, maybe one of them, was sparked by Cruella, and that's all that really matters.

Dog Cane
Last one. This was kinda quickly put together after the review was written. The materials are from BlenderKit, and the head is part of a full, rigged model by pomilecrown

One last thing, the soundtrack. I have it. I tried to put it on my phone when I left the theatre but didn't have wi-fi. I tried to stop somewhere with wi-fi on my way home but instead had to drive back in silence. It's great. It may overwhelm some people, but the songs were just right for me. The worst song choice, the last one, isn't on there, so there's no risk of reliving that moment. Instead, for example, you're treated to Ike & Tina Turner's "Whole Lotta Love." The power of it, to someone who grew up on classic rock, cannot be overstated. Stone's celebratory rendition of "I Want To Be Your Dog" comes after a different John McCrea's full performance, and it's literally a showstopper. Nicholas Britell's score doesn't get equal treatment, but the times it's allowed to shine, like when Estella's making her first dress for the Baroness, give the movie a little more grounding. 

Update: This movie continues to inspire. 

My Cruella Cosplay
Halloween 2021
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