Sometimes, you see a trailer for a film – or even just the promo art – and think, I have to watch this with someone.
When I saw A Cinderella Story: Starstruck pop up on HBO Max, I knew who had to be my streaming buddy – someone who I exclusively and purposefully only watch terrible movies with (ask me about the Fast & Furious cult).
Now, I probably should go a bit more into our expectations, and the premise of this movie, before diving in any further. I, personally, am very picky about my rom-coms. My friend, however, absolutely lives for them; I think factually there is not a single romance movie pre-2010’s that she hasn’t seen. Despite our differences, though, we can both agree that A Cinderella Story (2004) starring Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff) is a certified classic that deserves to be preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress so future generations may discover what a true rom-com is.
The classic Cinderella Story Dynamic™ is quite simple, but effective. The female lead pretends to be someone else for one reason or another (in this case, to get a second shot at becoming famous) and the male lead falls in love with both versions of her. It’s tried and true, and all very Miraculous Ladybug (2015). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Warner Bros. took Hilary Duff’s Cinderella Story success formula and bled it dry, spawning FIVE (!) direct-to-TV/DVD sequels. Each of these are exactly what you would expect. A Cinderella Story: Starstruck (which I want to call “A Country Cinderella Story” every single time) is the fifth direct-to-DVD sequel, but has its own unique twist: the alter-ego of the female lead is male.
The LGBT+ of it all
Our little LGBT+ hearts fluttered – could this actually be a queer movie??
There is an LGBT+ side character: the evil stepbrother Kale (Richard Harmon), who is actually the best character in the movie (more on that later). To give credit where it’s due, this was the one element where the writers did not go ridiculously over-the-top and cliched; there was no focus on the fact that he was gay, nor even a random declaration of his sexuality just so everyone could know. He simply was.
On the other end, though, there’s also a decidedly misplaced (if not entirely anti-) LGBT scene where the lead female character Finley, disguised as her male alter ego Huck (both played by Bailee Madison) a la Back to the Future, has to kiss her evil stepsister (who has a huge interest in Huck) for the movie they are acting in. (Yes, this is an Inception movie-inside-a-movie movie.) The director remarks, “That was weirdly erotic, but also not.” Yuck. My friend actually had a nervous breakdown after the whole scene because of how cringey and awkward it was.
There’s definitely more chemistry between Huck and the male lead Jackson Stone (Michael Evans Behling) than Finley and Jackson, and it truly does seem to anyone without heterosexual blinders that Jackson is harboring a major crush on Huck – especially since that’s been the whole premise of the five previous movies in the franchise.
Kale even remarks that Jackson seems to be interested in Huck, and states that they’d make a cute couple. Yet, their relationship is played off as a platonic bond for 95% of the movie, but then as completely heterosexual in the last 5% when (spoilers) Jackson reveals that he’s known Huck was Finley most if not the entire time (but did he???). Overall, a 3/10 on the LGBT-side, and that’s solely because of Richard Harmon’s hard work.
Not the best Cinderella Story, but also not the worst
The plot and script of A Cinderella Story: Starstruck was on par with all of the other sequels, though perhaps slightly elevated as we did get a genuine laugh or two from some of the jokes. (Again, that was mainly thanks to Harmon’s delivery, rather than the actual writing).
It’s the simple wash-and-repeat of all of the other franchise movies, but hey, that’s what we’re all expecting anyways. The acting really saves Starstruck, with the side characters really stealing the show. The evil step-family truly embodied their inherently over-the-top wicked roles. Kudos to April Telek as Valerian, the dumb, wicked stepmother; Lillian Doucet-Roche playing the equally dumb and wicked stepsister, Saffron; and of course, I’ve already praised Harmon’s wicked stepbrother, Kale… even though the movie can’t seem to decide if Kale is the only smart one of the trio or equally on the same brainwave (no thoughts, head empty). Special shoutout to the delivery of the line “I am going to have to punch you in the neck,” a threat I will be incorporating in my daily life moving forwards.
Bailee Madison was passable, both in character(s) and acting. Finley made for a stereotypical “woe is me” Cinderella. Huck didn’t have a personality/character beyond “I’m a perfect actor though I’ve never acted before in my life,” and “Nobody can find out I’m actually Finley.” Madison didn’t even really deepen her voice to do a faux-masculine tone for Huck, which was an incredible disappointment because it was the one thing my friend and I were counting on going into this movie. Basically, her acting was very Hallmark, which makes sense because she is in fact a Hallmark actress (if you know, you know).
Co-lead Michael Evans Behling, in his first feature role, was a step up overall. (Though it’s hard to tell his acting prowess from this movie, thanks to the script and the atrocious fake Southern accent he sported throughout.) His character Jackson Stone was actually a pleasant surprise, demonstrating a kind and supportive nature to everyone from Finley/Huck to the farm animals. (Comforting a horse who couldn’t make a jump? That’s pretty darn cute.)
The True Star of Starstruck Is Jon Ham
The real star of the show, though, shockingly goes uncredited. It’s a pig. A pig named Jon Ham. (Do I even need to say more?)
His acting was en pointe, putting him up there with the likes of Babe and Wilbur. He’s also as cute as a button (not to objectify him) and the true hero of Starstruck, without whom the grand conclusion would not be possible. 10/10 protect Jon Ham at all costs.
Not the best Cinderella Story, but also not the worst
The plot and script of A Cinderella Story: Starstruck were trite, the leads were subpar, the LGBT+ opportunities were missed, and the unnecessary, slapdash musical numbers (did I mention the random singing?) tacked on as an afterthought were the downfall of this movie, despite its side-characters doing their absolute best to hold it up.
Also, as a final thought, I would like to point out the fact that this movie is rated PG. This largely holds up, but then it starts throwing around the word “erotic” and having a teenager eagerly offer to help someone take of their pants (yes, like that). Very strange dynamic. Not sure what to do with this besides say “yikes” and try to erase it from my memory.
Overall, I’d have given this movie a 6.5/10 if it weren’t for the incredibly awkward and unnecessary step-sister kissing, which is saying a lot for this sort of movie. However, that scene DID happen, so the final score must drop to a 5.5. (10/10 for Jon Ham, my beloved).