Selena Gomez began her career, like so many great thesps before her, on Barney & Friends. Largely known these days as the girlfriend of Justin Bieber, Gomez follows in the footsteps of countless starlets by working her way up through the Disney ranks, and most notably her stint on Wizards of Waverley Place and the Disney Channel Original Movie Princess Protection Program. Attempting to shed her kiddie image, she has turned to The Family Stone helmer Thomas Bezucha to take her around the world in a series of expensive frocks.
When 18-year-old Texas girl Grace (Gomez) graduates from high school, she is excited to finally travel to Paris with her best friend and fellow diner waitress Emma (Katie Cassidy, A Nightmare on Elm Street). At least until her parents drop a bombshell on her with the news that her stepfather will pay for the trip, as long as Grace’s uptight older stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester, Gossip Girl) goes with them. The trip begins as a disaster of a budget tour, until their lives take a turn for the better when Grace is mistaken for heiress Cordelia Withropp-Scott (also Gomez) and all three start to enjoy the high life.
This somewhat familiar take on the Prince and the Pauper tale is based on the novel Headhunters by Jules Bass, formerly of founder of Videocraft International, better known now as Rankin/Bass. In the 1960s and 1970s, the company produced a series of stop-motion holiday specials including Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Indeed, “animated” is a word that is incredibly appropriate to Monte Carlo, a film where a great deal of activity is occurring around very little of substance, but a tremendous amount of fun is had in the process. The film takes its time to get going, and for a time it seems that this will be just another tale of warring sisters bonding in a fish-out-of-water scenario. Yet when the largely unexpected twist of the body-double enters the narrative, energy levels are cranked up to red cordial proportions.
The photography from Jonathan Brown (School for Scoundrels, Mama’s Boy) is of the bright and vivid variety, like candy erupting from a carefully formed mountain of bunnies. Showcasing the dazzling lights of both Paris and Monte Carlo, along with Budapest for some reason, it occasionally misses the mark in Paris by giving screen-time to some of the less interesting vistas of the City of Light. Gomez proves to be a likeable young adult actress, freed from playing the teenage/high school Disney roles that have kept her in a mouse trap for the last few years. Similarly, Meester makes the transition from caricature sister to likeable with impressive ease. It’s Katie Cassidy that surprises though, often stealing scenes away from her more recognisable co-stars and completely injecting a sense of random into events.
It’s interesting to note that this was originally written for an older cast, with Nicole Kidman and two other actresses allegedly set to play three women pretending to be rich heiresses on the search for husbands in Europe. That storyline was potentially demeaning for everyone involved, and the real achievement of Monte Carlo‘s script – from Bezucha, April Blair (Lemonade Mouth) and Maria Magnetti (Without a Trace) – is that stays interesting for people over the age of 13 while maintaining the youthful exuberance needed in what is essentially a romp.
Monte Carlo is released on 22 September 2011 in Australia from Fox.