"The Prince & Me" makes no bones about the fact that it is a formulaic romantic fantasy, but it is still deceptive. For the first 90 minutes of its running time, the characters and situations were more or less based in reality, with the subject of a farm girl swept off her feet by a royal prince as plausibly handled as one could possibly expect. And then comes a climax that, in a key sequence set before a crowd of Denmark onlookers, strains the boundaries of one's suspension of disbelief. Still, this moment was hardly calamitous to the entire product. Unfortunately, it is followed by an enraging final scene that not only has a clumsy, tacked-on feel, as if test screening audiences got ahold of it in their narrow pursuit of a neat-and-tidy conclusion, but also goes against everything our heroine was set up to believe in. In this fleeting last second, "The Prince & Me" was converted from an amiable enough light entertainment into an unforgivably condescending waste of time.
Paige Morgan (Julia Stiles) is a studious pre-med student entering her final undergraduate year at a Wisconsin university. As she sees all of her old high school friends finally getting engaged and married, Paige has a difficult time understanding their intentions. She has never really been in love, and wants nothing more than to continue her schooling career at Johns Hopkins. When Paige meets Eddie (Luke Mably), a dashing new student who becomes her chemistry lab partner, they at first get off on the wrong foot. With assistant Soren (Eddie Miller) almost always in tow, she sees Eddie as little more than a spoiled rich kid. And then he surprised Paige with his charm and understanding, proving there is more to him than just money and smooth moves, and a romance gradually forms between the two. What Paige doesn't yet know is that Eddie's full name is Edvard Valdemaar Dangaard, and he is the distinguished Prince of Denmark.
Directed by Martha Coolidge (1983's "Valley Girl"), "The Prince & Me" takes a detour in the second half, bringing to the forefront Paige's compelling dilemma. Tracking down Eddie in Denmark after he returns home to be with his ailing father, Paige finds herself suddenly engaged and faced with becoming a princess. What she soon comes to understand, however, is that she is simply not cut out for being royalty, especially at the expense of a future medical career that she is so passionate about. For a while, the film seems to be headed down a more honest and mature path than the average frothy romance, with Paige unwilling to give up her hard-earned dreams for a fairy tale life of luxury.
Due either to the spineless screenplay by Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, and Katherine Fulgate, or a last-minute reshoot, this appreciably realistic trajectory is not to be. The way in which Paige's quandary and relationship to Eddie are wrapped up feels abrupt and cheap, foregoing a number of more truthful (and still upbeat) alternative endings for one that gives Paige the short end of the stick. For a young woman whom the viewer has grown to like and admire, she is not treated with the respect she deserves.
Perhaps the ending of "The Prince & Me" is so disappointing because Julia Stiles (2003's "Mona Lisa Smile
") injects Paige, as she can be counted on to do with all her characters, with real intelligence and resiliency. Stiles naturally has these character traits, almost no matter what the part, and here she ultimately comes off as far smarter than the stock screenplay she is stuck within. What Paige is asked to go along with in that sloppy final scene simply isn't believable to how she would really react in the situation, and so the whole film collapses around her. Julia Stiles is one of the very best actresses of her generation, and is good enough to almost make the film (minus the last minute or two) worth seeing. Not quite, but she gives it her best shot.
As love interest Eddie, Luke Mably (2003's "28 Days Later
") joins the ranks of Matthew Goode in 2004's worse "Chasing Liberty
" and Josh Duhamel in 2004's better "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
" as no-name love interests asked to basically be bland and withhold their bigger female co-stars. To his credit, Mably is plausible as a prince and does share adequate chemistry with Stiles, which is more than could be said between Goode and Mandy Moore in "Chasing Liberty
In bringing "The Prince & Me" to the screen, director Martha Coolidge and sharing distributors Paramount and Lion's Gate have sold themselves, and audiences, short. A featherweight romance for teenage audiences doesn't have to invent the wheel, but it does need to treat its heroine with the same respect put into setting up the character in the first place. "The Prince & Me" fails to do this, mistakenly believing that all viewers will leave happy only if they see their lead female character ride away happily into the sunset with her prince. If that was the way the filmmakers wanted to go, then they shouldn't have set the story in a place resembling the real world. The ending, plain and simple, cheapens all that has come before.