Film review by Jason Day and Win Hughes of Cruella, the crime comedy that gives the backstory of 101 Dalmatians villain Cruella de Vil. Starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. Directed by Craig Gillespie.
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This prequel to 101 Dalmatians looks at the backstory to notorious fashion villain Cruella de Vil, played by Emma Stone. As a child, Estella (her real name) is rebellious and frequently in trouble with her teachers. After being expelled, her mother is killed as she asks for money from a rich woman to support her and her daughter.
Estella finds herself on the streets but joins up with pals Jasper and Horace who support her in a life of crime. But Estella’s dream is to join the fashion house of Baroness (Emma Thompson), something she achieves but discovers uncomfortable truths about her relationship with the arrogant, bitchy fashionista.
Review, by @Reelreviewer and @win_hughes
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the angle.”Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) highlights the modus operandi for his gang’s next crime.
Following nearly a year of being closed, UK cinemas are now jam-packed with big title releases audiences – certainly I – have been clamouring to see, including this live-action ‘what happened before 101 Dalmatians’.
Best to be honest from the outset people, this is a long film (two and a quarter hours) that could easily have been two reels shorter and it takes its sweet ass time to get going.
The opening preamble covers Estella/Cruella’s childhood and schooling in rather too lavish detail. Do we really need to see all of this? Perhaps a little bit, a single scene to see us through until we jump to the meatier bits when Estella/Cruella is a young woman merrily engaged in a life of crime and grime.
I found myself tapping my foot and checking the time on my phone for the first quarter of an hour and also during the extended ‘grime moments’ of Estella/Cruella endlessly scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets at Liberty’s department store.
Seriously, was this film ever going to pick up the pace?!
NB: On the topic of Liberty’s – quite possibly London’s most beautiful store – what is it with English movies and their negative view of these bastions of UK shopping? Peter Rabbit showed Harrods as a nasty, unfeeling place to work and here, Stone’s boss is a vain and vicious narcissist/slave driver.
Thankfully, it does get going and we (eventually) arrive at some awesomely arranged performance art pieces as Estella-now-Cruella launches herself onto the cultural scene in London.
These are seriously well thought out scenes with Cruella, for instance, using a rubbish truck to dump former creations from her rival/boss The Baroness onto the street, only to rise like a sartorial phoenix to hitch a ride on said truck. She makes her escape, but reveals she has turned those dresses into one massive, patchwork creation, the train of which ripples like a sea of fabric behind her cackling self.
Talk about catwalk domination, but the design of this movie, particularly the costuming – as you would expect – is superb throughout.
Stone enjoys herself immensely by playing with the Cruella character, but opposite Emma Thompson as The Baroness, you see the marked contrast between the performers.
Stone, straining the English accent through gritted teeth and taut neck, appears comparatively uptight. Thompson, on the other hand, is cool as a cucumber and in her element. As the bitchy, aggressive Baroness, she is a woman who when presented with a taser for the first time, casually zaps a staff member unlucky enough to be walking past. Without a flicker of a perfectly mascaraed eyelash (and Thompson’s make up is superb; she is ageing well and looks stunning here), she says: “I could do this all day.”
My next statement says more about me that I should probably be comfortable with, but this the sort of character I naturally warm to in a film.
Likewise to the impeccable John McCrea as Artie, Cruella’s fabulously attired and coiffured designer pal. Witty and pretty, he is also seriously sexy and appealing to all types who like someone who looks the better side of daring, a man who also no doubt likes to cast his rod in any available pond.
And now, on to that Win had to say:
The more I think about Cruella the more I believe there are things to really like about it. The costumes are amazing, the set-piece heist capers are brilliant and the soundtrack is just perfect.
But – and it’s a considerable but – these are all post-movie thoughts and whilst they were evident whilst watching it, it means Cruella provoked a more cerebral than visceral reaction.
It wasn’t quite funny enough, nor did it provide enough wows, to make it a great movie. But it is a good one.
It took far too long to get started and this was a fil that could have cheerfully lost 30 minutes and only benefitted.
The best thing about the film by far is the stellar performance from Emma Thompson as The Baroness. She stole every scene, functioned as the impetus of the whole fil and thrillingly portrayed a glamorous older woman without any sense of an apology. Sadly though, it was a 5 star performance in a three star movie.
Cast & credits
Director: Mark Gillespie. 2hr 14 min/134 min. Gunn Films/Marc Platt Productions/TSG Entertaiment/Disney. (12a).
Producers: Kristin Burr, Andrew Gunn, Marc Platt.
Writers: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara.
Camera: Nicolas Karakatsanis.
Music: Nicholas Britell.
Sets: Fiona Crombie.
Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, John McCrea, Emily Beecham, Mark Strong, Kayvan Novak, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jamie Demetriou, Niamh Lynch, Andrew Leung.