Cruella ★★½

I can’t give this film more credit than it deserves. So yes it mostly looks fabulous – those sets and costumes are as striking as you’d want them to be for a movie about a fashion-forward villain in the ‘70s. And yes, Emma Stone is about as good as you’d expect her to be as a scheming version of Emma Stone in a wig. And even though they’re mostly too on the nose (of course there’s a long scene with a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog”), we get some fun music choices and some good cheeky punk attitude. But beyond that, there’s a disappointing and noticeable lack of coherent substance to bind the film together. If the devil is in the details, this film completely unravels as soon as any thread is followed for more than an a moment or two.

Cruella the live-action prequel never quite justifies its existence or fully leans into any of the commentary or edge it grazes throughout its runtime – it almost accomplishes something interesting and unexpected, then trips at every important turn. And then Cruella the film immediately registers as derivative and formulaic when stripped of the responsibility associated with its pre-existing universe – I don’t see how the film would have been worse if Anne Hathaway had just gone ahead and played Estella/Cruella and Meryl Streep reprised her role as Miranda the Baroness. If it was always going to be celebrities cast for celebrity’s sake and shameless mirroring of existing tropes and character dynamics, I struggle to see how any actress could have added anything substantive to the mix, limiting as it clearly was.

In style, there’s a composure and effortlessness to “cool,” and in premise, this film absolutely oozes with it. In execution, when something bursts at the seams with effort to read as cool, all the edge dulls, and we’re left with something that’s ever so unfashionably sabotaged its own intent. For all its glamorous qualities, the film never quite recovers from that particularly mortal faux pas, and what we’re left with is a sample garment masquerading as a signature piece – stunning from a few angles, but tragically lacking from most.

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