Cruella

Cruella ★★½

"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the angle."

I dunno man. She tries to kill puppies. Maybe Cruella isn't the girlboss we need, but she's the girlboss we deserve.

Emma Stone stars as Disney's next live action villainess who apparently has earned a prequel -- move over, Maleficent -- and with the dark energy of Joker and a dash of chaotic camp she bursts onto the big screen or onto your small one for thirty goddamn dollars as the titular Cruella. And while there's some fun in this better-than-I-thought-it'd-be movie, there is no way it needed to be anywhere close to 137 minutes. Holy hell.

We begin with the child Estella von Hellman (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), the daughter of working-class Catherine (Emily Beecham). A rebellious and temperamental kid, she's nicknamed "Cruella," but thinks she can make something of herself with a talent for art and fashion. Headed to London, her mother begs the wealthy Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) for help getting her into school; instead, Catherine is pushed off a cliff by the Baroness' vicious Dalmatians as Estella watches. The child had caused a ruckus and blames herself, so she runs.

Years later, Estella (Stone) has survived as a street urchin and hustler with friends Jasper Badun (Joel Fry) and Horace Badun (Paul Walter Hauser), who help her get a job at the Liberty department store, and stumbles into a fashion gig with von Hellman as boss. She only notices it's the woman who murdered her mom when she sees a necklace she wore. Now, leaning into her Cruella de Vil alter ego, she plans for revenge on this haute couture designer not just by upstanding her at parties, but turning the publicity into catapulting her fashion career.

This sort of aesthetic is one we've now been watching in Disney or Disney-adjacent movies for over a decade, what Emily VanDerWerff calls not "'dark' or 'gritty,' but...something closer to family-friendly steampunk." I don't know about you, but I've ordered my Hot Topic tees and MAC accessories already.

Anyway, Cruella only takes a few minutes to straighten up a couple things: 1) she doesn't hate all puppies as she adopts a sweet stray named Buddy, and 2) she was relentlessly bullied (and orphaned) as a child giving her a real chip on her shoulder as an adult. Glad we cleared that up. We have to like her now I guess.

The excessive CGI in this movie I'm afraid is really a harbinger of what films are becoming now, where even the smallest things and briefest scenes have to be tidied up by computer graphics. Nearly all of the animals on screen are fake. I get hung up on this but man it's just lazy. Moments like this coupled with its ungodly runtime of way over two hours -- stay for the mid-credits scene! -- and there's a lot of time you can ignore large portions of the story and not miss anything important. Besides, Gillespie isn't being very original, throwing together yet another storytelling narration from a victim just like his previous I, Tonya, and adding Paul Walter Hauser just for kicks.

Credit to the film for a killer soundtrack of 60s and 70s jukebox hits from Nina Simone, Supertramp, Queen, Blondie, the Doors, Electric Light Orchestra, and the Clash. Add in a new track by Florence and the Machine and it's a rockin' good time. And the one completely unimpeachable element is the universally lauded combination of production and costume design by Fiona Crombie and Jenny Beavan, respectively. They are outstanding and recreate a stunning vision of 1970s London with a punk chic.

Otherwise, alternatively interminably boring or chaotically unfocused, Cruella has some fun moments but they're far and few between. A ludicrous twist adds nothing. Prepare for the inevitable sequel to the prequel anyway.

Friend who wrote a better review than me: Paula.

Added to Craig Gillespie ranked.
Added to The Narrative Films of 2021, ranked.
Added to 2022 Academy Awards nominees, ranked.

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