Since I am an out of touch old fogey, I'm not much down with what's trending. I stumbled upon Pretty Little Liars on ABC Famil- ahem, pardon, Freeform - and actress Lucy Hale right away struck me as someone familiar. Turns out, she starred in A Cinderella Story: Once Upon A Song, a cheesy but entertaining 2011 kid movie I watched while babysitting. It's one that caters to a specific demographic - the tween girls. It's replete with camp and corn and humor that's as subtle as a pie mashed in the face. It's the third stand-alone installment, following A Cinderella Story (2004) and Another Cinderella Story (2008).
Poor 17-year-old Katie Gibbs (Hale), reduced to playing scullery maid to her cruel step-mother and her atrocious children. And since the step-mom, Gail Van Ravensway (Missi Pyle), is also dean to the Wellesley Academy of the Arts, the prestigious private school Katie attends, there's no respite to our girl's misery.
Katie is an aspiring singer with a gorgeous voice and a knack for songwriting. See her perk up when a renowned British record producer shows up at school and assigns his teenaged son, Luke (Freddie Stroma), with producing (and scouting) the school's semester showcase. The mean dean is also ecstatic. She sees it as a chance for her daughter Bev (Megan Park) to land a recording contract. But here's the rub: Bev cannot sing. She sounds like cats in a room full of rocking chairs. The dean arrives at a brilliant idea: Why not have Katie lay down the vocal tracks and have Bev take credit? An outraged Katie plays along under threats of being sent to foster care and the loss of her come-of-age inheritance.
Should you ever wonder what it'd be like were a movie to fuse elements of Cinderella and Cyrano de Bergerac, look no further than here. Yes, it's ridiculously over-the-top, thanks to an unapologetically hammy script and that horrible brat (Matthew Lintz) and that in-house guru (Manu Narayan) and, mostly, to a mugging Missi Pyle. Maybe you'll find her hilarious. Good for you, then. To me, Pyle's super-exaggerated take renders her character a buffoonish cartoon, and, for that, the movie loses points with me. Next to what Pyle has wrought, Park's vacuous step-sister seems the epitome of groundedness.
There are good things that counter the bad bits. Some of the comedy works, like the recurring gag where bands keep auditioning to Luke in the men's restroom. Most importantly, Hale and Stroma are sweet together and there seem to be sparks. Hale's screen presence alone makes this movie watchable. But the songs are also listenable, specifically the original tracks performed by Hale and by Stroma. Stroma's "Knockin" has got this upbeat, tap-your-toe groove. His all-too-fleeting colab scene of "Possibilities" is a highlight. Hale, for her part, has got this strong, marvelous singing voice. She does well with a series of snazzy, club-type jams, but she shines most when she eases back on a stripped-down acoustical song like "Extra Ordinary." Note that you'll have to jump on YouTube to get the full version because you only get to hear an inadequate snippet in the film. Actually, for proper enjoyment, you'll probably have to access YouTube for the full tracks. Or, I guess, buy the soundtrack. Yeah, you should buy the soundtrack. 3 or 3.5 out of 5 stars for this one.
If you could spare a few more cents, maybe you'll instead want to pick up [[ASIN:B006X08DZ0 A Cinderella Story / Another Cinderella Story / A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song (Triple Feature)]] since it's got all three A Cinderella Story movies.