Film Review: After the Ball

Cinderella adrift in the fashion world is the premise for this harmless piece of fluff.
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The latest in the seemingly endless movie variations on Cinderella takes place in the hectic, bitchy, backbiting world of high fashion. Kate (Portia Doubleday) is an aspiring designer who goes to work in the dying dressmaking company of her father (Chris Noth), who runs it with his fashionista harridan of a second wife (Lauren Holly). She, in time-honored wicked stepmother style, mistreats poor, shy Kate, as do Kate’s equally awful stepsisters (Natalie Krill, Anna Hopkins).

When these female enemies set her up and get her fired from the company, Kate plots to come back strong and, to do this, dons male drag to become Nate, a flamboyant couture genius who flaunts the confidence and ego Kate so sorely lacks.

It's silly, all right, with huge nods to predecessors like The Devil Wears Prada and, especially, Ugly Betty, but director Sean Garrity spins things along at a brisk, lively pace. If you don't think too hard and just give into the film, a reasonably diverting time can be had. What the script (by Kate Melville and Jason Sherman) does capture is the incessant conniving and pressure that inevitably accompany the prettiness of the fashion world, and which, less humorlessly, helped to destroy huge talents like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and so many others, now forever scrambling to save their careers.

The enormous-eyed Doubleday makes Kate so mousy that she's not very interesting, but the actress comes alive in her Nate impersonation. Looking like a foppish Arnold Stang, she's an irresistible mix of hauteur and hopeless nerdiness, swanning about the studio and hailing a cab with an imperious raised finger. Marc-André Grondin has an understated attractiveness as her Prince Charming who gets to do the rather wearisome shoe routine.

Noth, impaled by a humongous pair of designer glasses, does what he can with a totally clueless character, a father who ignored his daughter her whole life because she reminded him too much of his dear departed wife. Holly, Krill and Hopkins work overtime at being mean girls, rather cancelling each other out. David Michael, as a fellow designer, seems to have taken a long, hard look at Michael Urie in Ugly Betty and decided to go him one better in the outrageous gay category, making one wonder if, in decades to come, such characterizations will seem as outdated and offensive as Stepin Fetchit's "Uncle Tom" routines.

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