Genovia is not a real country. This came as a shock to preteen me. I was raised to believe every word, no matter how abstract, that is spoken by Her Majesty, Julie Andrews. She would never lie to me. I wonder how many others spent years believing in this beautiful, civilized, pear-loving country sandwiched somewhere between Spain and France. Even today it sounds so real that Google Maps could add it to the globe for their annual April Fools campaign and many a millennial would believe it had always been there, like paved roads or the internet.
Relax your knee socks and loosen your platform Dockers because The Princess Diaries is a 90’s teen flick that was born two years too late. Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is a frizzy-haired, speech-hating, awkward 15-year-old with two friends and a terrible school uniform. Disney really broke the mold with this average non-princess and her animal side-kick who live with a free-spirited mother in the coolest San Francisco house/fire hall, probably right around the corner from Baymax. Mia’s goal in life is to survive not thrive, and her only wish is to be as invisible as possible. Her plans get sidetracked, however, when Mia’s estranged grandmother, Clarisse, comes to town. Two things strike us immediately about Clarisse: 1) She’s Julie Andrews, and 2) She’s the queen of a European country that absolutely rings a bell. Due to the recent death of Mia’s father – whom she never met – Clarisse comes to San Francisco to ask Mia to acknowledge her birthright. For someone whose only wish is to sink through the bushes and run out the other side, Mia is less than thrilled by the request. In compromise, Mia agrees to attend princess training with her grandmother but will hold off on a final decision until she’s had time to think it over. Posture lessons and family bonding ensue, and Mia quickly becomes the most popular girl in school.
Any teenage girl who slouches through life feeling like a plan B will relate to The Princess Diaries. So, basically all of them. The Princess Diaries captures the horrific awkwardness of the 10th grade set in the pre-Snapchat world of 2001 where people didn’t type insults, they yelled them across the schoolyard. The Princess Diaries is a time capsule with scooters, stringy hair, platform flip flops, cable TV, and casual female-shaming. Younger me totally glazed over that last one. Do you remember loving this cute movie about a sweet, clumsy dork who finds a way to accept herself and wear a bedazzled tiara with pride? Yes, well, that teen is also assaulted by the high school douchebag, exposed near-naked in front of the paparazzi, and then labelled a party animal on the evening news. It makes for pretty good drama, but I get the sense that Disney was sorting through a few personal issues that manifested unexpectedly.
If you look past the casual bullying and public disgrace, The Princess Diaries is a well-played nod to those awkward teenage years and Mandy Moore’s high school movie phase. Unlike Cinderella and Miss Congeniality‘s makeovers, Mia doesn’t feel any better about herself after she polishes the hair, the shoes, and the eyebrows. In fact, she hates herself a little more and feels like a traitor to her former, low-maintenance self. Being called a hideous sell-out by her best friend doesn’t exactly help. Of course, the hair and the eyebrows stay because Mia can’t deny that she looks fabulous, even if her self-esteem needs an upgrade to match. It’s a good thing her teacher is a charming royal grandmother with targeted priorities.
Heaven bless Julie Andrews. The Princess Diaries is fun and relatable but it would be nothing without Queen Maria Poppins of Genovia. Clarisse takes her own evolutionary journey thanks to Mia’s un-royal demeanour slopping up the place. Andrews glistens with charm and grace and was clearly the only casting choice for this regal, powerful, elegant queen of a country the size of a cookie. We can all envy Clarisse’s relationship with Mia and the efforts each one makes not to disappoint the other, even though their comfort zones are entirely different. While Mia agrees to wear high heals and take tea in the garden, Clarisse plays fair and surrenders to a 1966 Mustang and arcade games.
Inheriting the responsibility of taking over a country and living up to Julie Andrews’ expectations is enough to knock anyone out of their fire hall tower. The Princess Diaries is a movie with a lame title but great characters and plenty of opportunities for selfish, terrified teens to say, “I’m super sorry.” It’s a perfect slumber party movie or something you throw on to pass the time and feel nostalgic. The Princess Diaries is 7 diplomatic limos out of 10.