See It Or Skip It: See It
Delivers On All It’s Promises
Craig Gillespie’s Cruella delivers all the promises it's advertising made: Fashion, art, glamour, pride, and puppies - Oh the puppies! Set at the height of the punk rock movement in 1970s London, Emma Stone blazes effortlessly as Estella, an aspiring fashion designer who built a life of mischief for herself after befriending two thieves (Joel Fry & Paul Walter Hauser) who took her under their wing after Estella’s mother died.
Taking what's probably so little from those who seemingly have more than enough, the trio has great fun in taking advantage of the middle class and definitely the rich. Having been outcast by society, they find laughter wherever they can find it and mischief is an art form for them. I saw them more as pickpockets than the stereotypical thief. Again, they make it an art form. There's always a collaborative effort amongst the three and they make it look very structured. Just think of Awkwafina and the cast of Oceans 8. That's the vibe Stone aims for in Curella’s early stages.
Estella’s talent for design is soon discovered by Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), the evil head of a luxury fashion house. The baroness herself is a world-renowned fashion designer but this is the 70s. The culture and times are changing and the baroness seems to be losing her touch. Estella on the other hand has brilliant ideas bound to celebrate the new millennial era but is mostly held on retainer as the Baroness’s personal assistant. The “Devil Wears Prada” vibes really take flight from here. The baroness is literally Miranda Priestly in another era and just like Andrea Sachs’ Estella sticks it out in the hopes of utilizing her talents in the future.
She’ll send Estella out to fetch her tea (Miranda’s Starbucks) and force her to take notes when others pitch ideas (Emily jotting down all of Miranda’s requests). Fetching cucumbers to put over the bratty baroness’s eyes before her daily naps is an absolute must (Andy bringing the book to Miranda’s house). It's totally the kind of chore that had the baroness been played by Olivia Colman, my heart would have melted like 25 sticks of butter on a sizzling frying pan due to being rendered paralyzed by the shock of pure adorableness but the baroness was not written to be adorable to satisfy Olivia Colman worshipping nerds like me.
Instead, the baronesses' spoiled antics play out over an extended period of time as a way of saying that this is Estella's life now. She's not as in control as she used to be. One day while whining to Estella, The baroness lets some personal things slip out leading Estella to realize that the baroness was responsible for the death of Estella's mother. Having blamed herself for years, the submissive servant persona dies and Estella remembers who she is. Determined to exact revenge on the baroness, she decides to start her own label that outshines the baroness but not as Estella, as the woman Estella disguises herself as Cruella.
As Cruella’s success skyrockets and the baroness becomes less important, she becomes crueler at work than usual (I know that doesn't seem possible). Estella keeps her job and masquerades as Cruella at night as the baroness’s trust in Estella could be rendered useful to her. Cruella de Vil is such an iconic character and we all know what she does to puppies. Cruella as a film shows all the puppies and dalmatian but it's not the animal cruelty story we all grew up with. The baroness is the REAL Cruella as far as evil is concerned and Stone’s Cruella simply represents the idea that perhaps we've had it backward in regards to the cultural icon we all thought we knew so well. Sort of like Joaquin Phoenix in Joker but obviously this film has no blood and is much more PG-friendly, hahaha.
For a Disney film, Cruella is pretty near PERFECT. I expected more from the final showdown between Estella and the baroness but everything is delivered perfectly and right on time. The costumes, the makeup, the production design, the music, and the ensemble cast all rise to the occasion but predictably, everything falls down to Stone and Thompson’s performances. If Emma Thompson’s name hadn't been in the TV spots, I'd have never known it was her. The hair and makeup are so over the top (Not in a bad way, in an exciting way) it's as though her face was put into a corset, tightened until the life was squeezed right out of her and then makeup was applied until she's as pale as a ghost. She looks the part and her mannerisms take care of everything else.
Stone of course is the crown jewel. My brother knows I look for any excuse to bring up the Favourite (hi Jake!) but in all seriousness, I really do think Stone's performance in that film greatly contributed to how her performance in Cruella played out. English actors have always been able to do great American accents but American actors really have to train their voice to pull the English accent off. It's like singing, it requires a lot of training and if the end result is bad, critics will attack like wolves. Stone's English accent in the Favourite was 99 percent out of 100 perfect. There was just this one little something that told me she was still in the learning stages but that she was getting really close. Having that experience as Abigail in The Favourite was so essential because, from the moment Stone steps on center stage in Cruella, I couldn't take my ears off her (that's not a typo, not my eyes, ears). Looking at the part is the easy step but embodying the character is everything. Stone has this confidence in playing Estella and once she had that confidence locked down, she has such fun with the role just like Estella has fun bringing down the evil baroness.
Seeing Cruella in theaters was truly a dream come true. A year ago, I thought I'd never been to a theater again. I never want my theater experience to be too crowded but it should never feel empty. Besides my brother and I (hello again Jake! Thanks for bringing me and paying for everything!), there were only four people (three teenagers and one child) in the whole giant theater (and two of them left right before the horrible previews started due to a stupid annoying millennial fight). I truly am so grateful that big theaters are open again and I do respect that health has to come first but we're still in the empty theater stages of cinema coming back. So many theaters are not open and the ones that are don't seem to attract as many people. I enjoyed going to the theater and was grateful for being able to go but it wasn't what it was before covid and we need to work harder on getting that kind of theater back. I know it won't happen overnight but it's summer! We should be farther along than we are. Come on every one step out of the house and back into the theater. Buy a ticket and do your part to save your local movie theater.
In spite of the turnout I saw, Cruella still seems to be doing well enough at the box office so it is definitely a summer blockbuster. I encourage anyone reading to go see It. Support our cinemas and see a good film. Do your part.
Cruella picture credit: https://www.tanikal.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Cruella.jpg