This sweetly unlikely romantic fantasy is the summer’s equivalent of Transformers for girls. Instead of cars changing into giant robots, three working-class innocents abroad get to leave behind their everyday identities and become privileged, all-powerful socialites. Okay, no cities are laid waste and the fate of the world isn’t at stake, but still.
Recent high-school grad Grace (Selena Gomez), her older stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) and Grace’s fellow waitress Emma (Katie Cassidy) are suffering through a budget vacation in Paris when they discover that Grace is a dead ringer for snooty-rich bad-girl celubutante Cordelia Winthrop Scott. Overhearing Cordelia’s plan to go AWOL from charity-related responsibilities without checking out of her hotel suite, Texan Grace impersonates the British heiress to enjoy a night of luxury accommodations. The next morning, Grace and company are swept up in a whirlwind of activity that private jets them to Monte Carlo, where they continue their putting-on-the-Ritz ruse.
Gomez plays Grace with a tad too much restraint, to the point that her character often fades into the background even though she technically has the lead role. She’s more entertaining as the smugly condescending Cordelia, whose deadpan arrogance is quite amusing.
Cassidy’s crass, “G”-droppin’ Emma is the movie’s Tow Mater, a brazenly blue-collar good ol’ girl who actually employs the line “don’t mess with Texas.”
Gossip Girl star Meester, however, is perfectly perfect as the level-headed yet lovable Meg. Her hint of melancholy about her mother’s recent death isn’t overplayed, and her conversion from resentful and reluctant chaperone to swept-off-her-feet sweetheart is fun to watch.
Naturally, all three counterfeit Cinderellas procure their Prince Charmings, or at least think they have. Emma cheats on her unsophisticated down-home boyfriend Owen (Glee‘s Cory Monteith) with an actual prince (Giulio Berruti).
Grace is smitten with Theo (Pierre Boulanger), the ridiculously good-looking son of a wealthy philanthropist. And Meg hooks up with an unpretentious Australian backpacker named Riley (Luke Bracey), whose love-at-first-sight dreaminess is enough to make up for his apparent lack of funds.
A lot of this frothy parfait is empty calories, but nobody goes to a teenage dream rom-com expecting a nutritious meal. Some heart-to-heart moments are so soap-opera syrupy they inspire unintended laughter, such as when the ruggedly manly Riley says he’s living each day as it comes after spending a year on his back after a rugby accident.
But director/coscreenwriter Thomas Bezucha generally keeps things moving with a breezy style that builds to a wonderfully preposterous French-farce climax. Michael Giacchino’s excellent score, which ranges from big brass to acoustic strings, is another better-than-expected element that keeps the fun from feeling forced.
Monte Carlo is rated PG for “brief mild language.” That’s apparently due to a single line of dialog, when Meg notes that “this tour is ass.” Parents of tweens will appreciate that there are no sexual references, and no suggestion that anyone does anything beyond kissing. There’s also no drinking (Meg confiscates a champagne flute from Emma at a fancy ball before she can take even a sip), and no drugs.
Members of the Justin Bieber demographic may be the most likely to swoon over this ironically wholesome stolen-identity fairy tale. But that doesn’t mean older audiences can’t appreciate its simple pleasures as well. Everybody likes dessert, right?