The “tween” movie audience is a tough one to target and even harder to please. If your kids are little it’s easy to haul them to a fabulous new animated wonder. If they are older, well into high school let’s say, then you can pretty much share any movie with them depending on your own personal taste and guidelines. But the “tween” set has, of late, had mostly semi-super-natural fare to watch and not much based in reality per se. This is where AFTER THE BALL fills a much needed gap in the genre. This pseudo-Cinderella-meets-Cyrano tale is sweet without being pandering and saccharin, truly funny and features a genuinely likeable lead character in the form of Kate – and Nate – played by Portia Doubleday.
Kate is graduating from New York’s most prestigious fashion design school and her father (Chris Noth), the head of a well established fashion company, misses her final graduation show. We sense that this is par for the course between father and daughter and aprt of the problem is the requisite evil step-mother, Elise, played with chilling passive aggression by Lauren Holly and her astonishing devil-woman fingernails. Elise has effectively taken over the fashion company and Noth (Lee) has been relegated to being merely a figurehead, wandering through the corporate maze in a tranquilized and beaten down stupor. Elise’s two daughters (the required evil step-sisters) Tannis and Simone are head designers. As expected, when Kate arrives for a job at the company, possessing true talent and vision, it becomes Elise’s goal to eradicate her as quickly as possible. Kate’s retribution and triumph is inventive and satisfying while making a bold statement about gender equality in the workplace. There are other assorted plot twists and threads which elevate the movie above the obvious, but what really gives value to the done to death fairy tale is the well written script by Kate Melville and Jason Sherman, both of whom have numerous TV writing credits to their names.
Often in film it is the little things that make huge differences. AFTER THE BALL has clever and numerous ‘little things’ that matter. The cutthroat world of fashion is the perfect milieu for a modern day Cinderella story. Doubleday is a good actor, and is lovely without being too beautiful to believe. Her ‘fairy godparents’ played by Mimi Kuzyk and Carlo Rota are loveable, artistic, and idiosyncratic and provide the support and confidence boosting which Kate needs when things get ugly. Without being overly psychoanalytic the pair sets an important example for teenagers by being offbeat, theatrical, accepting and loving to Kate regardless of her material accomplishments. Daniel, our prince charming, played by Marc-André Grondin, is a shoe designer. Not only is he princely cute but he makes fabulous shoes!!! That’s what every girl wants. Most of all I must give credit to the stepsisters of Tannis and Simone (Natalie Krill and Anna Hopkins respectively) for bringing a genuinely humorous duo to life. Like a petty, high school female Abbot & Costello, their timing and banter is spot on. Krill in particular plays the hopelessly stupid Tannis with such clueless hilarity that I laughed out loud. More than once.
In the end there are no major surprises in AFTER THE BALL and that’s just fine. The film does not however shy away from treachery, homosexuality, creativity and parent-child conflict. There is no sugar coating to those themes and they are presently deftly and fairly, all the while maintaining some stereotypes. Caught between daughter, wife and business, Noth is a sympathetic and believable character and his awakening is refreshing. I look forward to watching AFTER THE BALL all over again with my daughter who is an über tween, and I know she will enjoy it. There is enough here for both adults and kids to think about and laugh over together, and that in itself is a major accomplishment.
Director: Sean Garrity
Cast: Portia Doubleday, Chris Noth, Lauren Holly, Marc-André Grondin, Natalie Krill, Anna Hopkins, Mimi Kuzyk, Carlo Rota
Runtime: 101 minutes
After The Ball Movie Review