After the Ball review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
As yet another revisioning of the classic Cinderella tale, After The Ball does at least have an interesting setting. Taking place in modern day Canada, struggling fashion graduate Kate Kassell returns home to work for her father’s clothing business. But the business is also being helmed by her wicked stepmother and her dunce duo of stepsisters acting as designers. Seeking to prove her worth, she starts at the bottom and is bossed around by her stepmother and sisters, shot down at every turn for trying to inject her own designs. This isn’t a half-bad idea for reimagining the narrative with The Devil Wears Prada vibe.
But then the movie grinds to a screeching halt when we introduce the twist to all this. Kate’s disguise for making her way back into the company and rise up as a designer is to assume a new identity of Nate. Donning a glasses and goatee, Kate’s new male persona is on the level of Yentl. She stumbles around with an accent of less-than-stellar English. Her mannerisms as a man are embarrassingly terrible with her nervously using terms like “bro” and “heterosexual man.” Of course, she has to be a mess of frustration around the cute boy she fancies which leads to some expected sitcom moments. The hunk tells Nate that he is going to go ask out Kate that very moment, leaving our protagonist mere minutes to rush to her apartment and assume the role of a woman. Remember how funny it was watching Robin Williams frantically trying to switch roles for two dinners in Mrs. Doubtfire? Even if you didn’t find that funny, you’ll be begging for those brand of gags with how passively this premise proceeds which is only funny in premise and not much else.
It’s a shame that the film falls so flat in this department as there is a lot of charm outside the drag aspect. Kate is incredibly likable as an eager college grad willing to prove herself, taking on any job with a much chipper spirit than you’d expect for her situation. Her father is distant and defeated, but slowly comes out of his shell with the ideas of Kate/Nate. The wicked stepmother is calculatively evil and sneering with dreams of corporate greed and sabotage. The wicked stepsisters are amusing to watch as the dopey mean girls who serve as perfect comic relief. Even the fairy godmother characters are charming with how little they have to do. While none of these characters ever really burst from the screen - especially with a very subdued Colin Mocherie - they all play their parts well enough that none of them feel out of place. All except Nate which requires a hefty amount of suspending disbelief to keep the story going.
This creates a torn love for the picture which aims to be a soft charmer, but goes for a somewhat lazy second act. There’s no surprises the way Kate uncovers a dastardly plot by her wicked stepmother, her phony credentials get her in trouble and how she naturally reveals her identity as a big public display. By this point, the Cinderella elements are practically shoehorned in with the departing at the ball and the fitting of the shoe. It’s a surprising turn given how the first act does a pretty sufficient job at restructuring the classic tale around a modern fashion agency. So well, in fact, that the whole secret drag angle feels almost entirely unnecessary. Did the writers run out of ideas midway through or did they just want to throw a strange twist in for the heck of it? It certainly passes the record scratch test in the way it pumps the breaks to create a new story in the middle of its current one.
If After The Ball just had the guts to stick with its original idea and premise, this could have been a surprisingly lovable little film. But it decides to cash its chips in early for a drag story that doesn’t work nearly as well as the filmmakers think it does. Were they afraid the Cinderella tale needed much more to it with such an addition? Disney’s revamped live-action version of 2015 suggests you don’t need extra changes in structure to make a timeless story work. Much like how Kate hides behind the facade of Nate, this is a film that’s afraid to be itself. It’s a real shame considering there is plenty to love before the story decides to curl back into its comforting shell of cliches. These characters are too good to be wasted on such a sitcom level of comedic antics.