Cruella has it’s faults, but in the end it is a rather enjoyable film with two great performances wrapped around some dazzling production design. An entertaining film that shouldn’t be as good as it is considering it’s stretched runtime.
1970s London is rife with fashion, with the head of the table being The Baroness (Emma Thompson). Troubled yet creative, Estella (Emma Stone) weaves her way through petty crime to get a job with the Baroness’s label. As more revelations are unfurled, Estella lets loose her other personality, known as Cruella, to try and sabotage The Baroness to become the leader of the London fashion scene.
Cruella starts in the 60s as the young Estella gets into all sorts of trouble culminating in her leaving school and venturing to London with her mother. But not until one last horrible event turns her world upside down. This section is probably the one that could have done with extra trimming. As much as we are connected to the story, we don’t need to spend as long as we do with little Estella. The film kicks on when we get to adult Estella and see how she navigates her way into the fashion world.
When we get to the meat of the story, and as wonderful as the scenes are of Estella/Cruella’s sabotages of The Baroness’s events. They play out as multiple heists, and we could have done with cutting done one or two (though don’t ask me which two!). The feeling of the writers backing themselves into a corner and using Jack Sparrow esque manoeuvres to get out of those situations can only go so far. Yet, the energy of the film and the enjoyment of those sabotages have you forgive it and also forgive the length of the film. By the final act, the film has us, even with our odd gripes (we will get to that), and the main game for the audience is what Cruella will do to The Baroness when her comeuppance comes around.
Emma Stone is spectacular in Cruella; she owns the screen every second she is on it, whether Estella or her alter ego. She is refreshing as this iteration that you forget that this is meant to be a heinous character for a while. There is such fun to her performance that you fall right in line with her as she ventures into the world of the London fashion scene in the 70s. Stone is delicious in her portrayal of a character who knows what she wants and will do what is needed to make sure it happens.
Emma Thompson is also wonderful here, and with the two being utterly compelling as we watch their story unfold, you are reminded constantly that it is, in fact, the Baroness who is more like Cruella De Vil than Cruella herself. Which asks the question if that was on purpose? Did the writers plan to have the Baroness become so much like how we imagine Cruella to be that it allows Stone’s version to become a virtually new character with similar quirks? Regardless it looks like Thompson is having a blast, and as the story connects the two more and more, we are hooked.
While Stone is amazing here, the film’s true star is undoubtedly the hair and makeup and costuming department. Some magic has been created here, and with Cruella and the Baroness going through so many costume changes, it becomes an almost dead on cert that Jenny Beavan and the hair and makeup team should be getting some form of nominations in March. Astoundingly beautiful work. Equally, Fiona Crumble and her team do something really special in Cruella; when we go from set to set, we feel we are there, the look of each of Cruella’s fashion show is fantastic. For as good as the cast are (and they are something else), the production team should take as much of the plaudits to the success of this film.
A major niggle to Cruella is the simple fact that it is almost best if you had never seen nor read 101 Dalmatians, for this incarnation of Cruella in no possible way fits the character of what she becomes. This is an alternate reality version of all of these characters. While you certainly want to see what happens next with the character, you do not want to see her go how the previous incarnations directed her. This then begs the question as to why we see this version, does an unsavoury character like Cruella De Vil deserve our empathy?
This is probably a question a thousand other reviews has tried to break down, so I won’t bore you uttering it again. However, the main issue taken up with the film is that while it is understandable that she would want to get revenge, the transition from Estella to Cruella is never earned enough. She is a schemer and strong-headed, but she isn’t a cruel person. Not that we see anyway, she is more of a desperate person who needs validation. We see that early on with her scenes with the Baroness. She is goal-driven with little malice in her to anyone who hasn’t wronged her.
For a moment, you wonder whether or not there could have been a story here that involved such a character who joins a fashion line and does what she does. Sure it would be a punk rock style, The Devil Wore Prada, but it would have worked as its own story without all of the attempts to make it link to Cruella’s universe in the way that it does. Yet, we know it would not have gotten made without this connection, so we will take those hits to get this very good story.
There is no reason for her complete character to change, for her to be as rude to her two “family” members as she is at times. Then for her to revert every so often confuses more. Understandably, she is so soaked up in her mission that she can’t help it, but only to a point. Why does her accent change when she is in private? Cruella’s conflicting nature in these moments in the latter half of the film begins to wear your patience a tad, and it seems that the writers never fully connected the dots as to how they could make us believe that she is going a little mad.
When the film gets to the final scenes, it takes a rather overly complicated direction that doesn’t quite hit as it should and almost comes across as a little Pirates of the Caribbean in its coincidences and “planning”. Not a negative that will overly hurt the film. But one that didn’t seem necessary with far simpler options ready for the taking.
With that all said and despite all of the great work done here by Craig Gillespie, Emma Stone et al., This has to be a one-shot film. While I would love to see more of Stone as Cruella. It would almost seem forced and tremendously false for her to become a true villain. It would waste all of the good work done on her character arc to torch it. If there has to be a sequel, there better be a good reason that doesn’t involve many black and white dogs. It would be a crime to ruin what was created here.
There is a feeling that people have gone into Cruella with their minds made up before the first frame is shown. While this is a “re-imagining”, what is left is still an excellent and entertaining film. Admittedly, I have even taken in some baggage to the film to compare her to her other iterations. In truth, it isn’t necessary, take this character and this story for what it is and enjoy the film as there are is a tonne to like.
Remember, Hollywood and cinema, in general, have been remaking, re-imagining films for over 120 years now. Some of the best movies we know now are remakes. What makes a film worthwhile is whether or not it is enjoyable; Cruella is that and in spades. If you liked her in 101 Dalmatians, you might not enjoy this film. You may want something else, that’s okay as that is your taste. Enjoy a movie for what it is and not for what you want to bring to the piece. Sure Disney could have spent hundreds of millions on a new unique story, but they didn’t, and somehow they still made a good film. Cinema, movies art has their limitations. Accept it, and this is an industry that thrives on capitalism. It always has; it won’t change. Anyway, rant over.
Cruella is a film that wears its beautiful decorated heart on its sleeve and becomes an easy film to love. If you can, check it out in a cinema, Cruella has earned that much of your attention. Just make sure to leave the things you knew about her and that world behind, it isn’t needed here, and that’s more than okay.
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