Monte Carlo (2011)

monte carlo

Much better than expected is high praise for a film that starts out as a flighty cliché about three young women who escape their small Texas town and head to Paris to have a good European time. Singer-actress-Disney-startlet Selena Gomez leads the pack as Grace, a high school graduate who gifts herself the trip of a lifetime thanks to her part-time waitressing job. Joining her are her best friend, Emma (Katie Cassidy), and uptight step-sister, Meg (Leighton Meester). All three actresses turn in better performances than the script demands, and though the film still bats about average, I found myself easily cheering on their team.

Gomez doesn’t dazzle, but she portrays her character with a healthy dose of emotional honesty that made me warm to the actress. Grace is a teenager who’s easy to relate to; she’s a thoroughly decent, generous, hard working woman, a dreamer and, because of that, a little daring. When her Parisian tour, her raison d’être, turns out to be a bust and they get separated from their group, the three straggle back towards their motel d’horreur. Exhausted and disappointed, Grace stops at a far nicer hotel to compose herself. There, she is mistaken for a snotty British heiress, Cordelia Winthrop-Scott. She has no qualms about perpetuating identity fraud if it gets her a warm bed and room service for the night, but she loses her nerve a little when her party is whisked off to Monte Carlo for a week of charity balls and auctions.

Grace has to fake her way through a polo match and the heiress life without tipping off Theo (Pierre Boulanger), her host’s handsome son, or Cordelia’s aunt (a plummy Catherine Tate), but the movie is more than a cat and mouse game of mistaken identity. In between the deception, she craves authenticity, which is something our reality TV age tells us that young women don’t want. The film lets its characters reveal their insecurities in small ways and doesn’t get showy about its agenda of self-discovery. Though the film drags at parts and could exploit its plot in more ways, there’s an effort to make sure the character’s don’t descend into the shallow and catty.

Even Grace’s wing-women get a satisfying turn. Emma is the most eager to break out of her Texan bubble. A girl who hasn’t been anywhere or seen anything, Paris offers her a chance to find some spark and passion, but her possessive boyfriend (Cory Monteith) doesn’t see it that way. Hidden behind Cassidy’s bubbly and relentless optimist is a reserve of strength, which she employs gamely in just one scene. Meanwhile, Meg, I think, is the star of the show. Overly cautious and still grieving her mother’s death, she accompanies the other two as something of a chaperone, to everyone’s annoyance. But Europe, and a handsome Australian backpacker (Luke Bracey), help her to start letting go and to trust the people around her, including her step-sister. Meester, like the other actresses, is good at keeping a little something of her character to herself, giving some vulnerability to Meg that is often missing in young female roles.

Released: 2011
Prod: Denise Di Novi, Alison Greenspan, Nicole Kidman, Arnon Milchan
Dir: Thomas Bezucha
Writer: Thomas Bezucha, April Blair, Maria Maggenti
Cast: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Pierre Boulanger, Cory Monteith, Catherine Tate, Luke Bracey, Andie MacDowell, Brett Cullen, Giulio Berruti
Time: 109 min
Lang: English, some French
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016