Never mind that The Prince & Me is utterly predictable. It’s also utterly charming. Director Martha Coolidge, writers Katherine Fugate, Jack Amiel and Michael Begler and stars Julia Stiles and Luke Mably update a familiar premise with loads of humor, respect and breeziness, resulting in one of the most enjoyable romantic comedies of the new millennium.
Even though the movie is no Roman Holiday, the filmmakers happily allude to the classic picture: The title character, bad-boy Prince Edvard of Denmark (Mably), comes across the film while watching TV, during a fateful channel-surfing session. After he passes on a gleeful Audrey Hepburn riding a bike, he’s captivated by a commercial for a porn video starring buxom co-eds from the Midwest. And so, he tells his parents (Miranda Richardson and James Fox) that he’s enrolling in college in America. The king and queen aren’t necessarily unhappy to see him go, because his recent rebellious high jinks with fast cars and ladies had been landing him on the front page of the tabloids often enough to disturb their sense of royal propriety.
The prince goes under cover, simply as a student from Denmark, "Eddie," to a Wisconsin college, where he meets the brainy Paige (Stiles), a serious pre-med student who tells her friends she’s devoting her semester to studies, not parties and boys. Paige, of course, immediately dislikes glib Eddie, who ends up as her chemistry lab partner, and who cajoles her into helping him get a job at the local bar where she works.
Even though Eddie is sassy and insensitive, Paige does admit he’s cute, and, little by little, she’s taken by him, especially when he helps her decipher a sonnet by Shakespeare for a blasted literature class she has to take.
Stiles, always an actress with a straightforward sense of purpose, gives Paige undeniable appeal. With not an ounce of Hollywood glitz or pretension in her pleasantly low-key performance, she’s entirely winning as an intelligent farm girl intent on becoming a doctor. Mably, in the flashier role, nicely plays all sides of the prince. Because he’s used to being in the limelight and getting his way, he can be a big jerk. But he also knows how to deal with people, as well as how to be polite. He’s got a great look, too. He’s elegant in those close-fitted royal jackets – he and Stiles appear to have about the same tiny waist size — and gosh darned adorable in jeans and T-shirts on campus.
A pivotal, truly endearing scene has Eddie at home with Paige on Thanksgiving weekend. Their holiday dinner conversation steers to the topics of Hamlet and Eddie’s home, about which Paige candidly, unknowingly, asks, "Does Denmark even have a prince?" while Eddie regales her brothers with the names of famous Danes, including Kierkegaard and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. It’s funny.
The dialogue is sharp and steady throughout. Yet another key scene is fueled by music, not words. A song by Tom Waits, "I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You" from his beautifully moving album, Closing Time, has Paige swaying to the sweet, sad song while she’s closing down the bar. Meanwhile, Eddie, who remains unseen by Paige, watches her from across the room, doing just that: falling in love. The moment isn’t sappy or too obvious; it’s simply touching.
Director Coolidge knows how to tell fun, positive stories about complex, thoughtful young women. She triumphed in movies such as Rambling Rose and Valley Girl, and she does it again here. She conjures an age-old fairy tale about a girl getting a prince into a fresh, 21st century fantasy.
– Leslie Katz