I first saw The Princess Bride back in high school when I was 13. I remember deriding the film for its name and its (assumedly) feminine tones and themes. Oh golly, how wrong I was… To see whether the film has held itself up in my eyes into adulthood, I headed on down to George St cinemas to see the In the House screening of the cult classic.
The screening opened up with the Movie Nerds, Ryan and Draz, discussing some of the film’s trivia to entice the audience. The interesting tidbit that stood out for me this time was the fact that Robin Wright and Cary Elwes, our two leads, were in a relationship during the production of the film and deliberately sabotaged their performances during romance scene shoots in order to spend more time with each other. With such chemistry, it’s no surprise that audiences love the romance between the two characters on screen!
The film’s story follows the romance of star-crossed lovers Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Wesley (Cary Elwes) as they live an idyllic rural life together in each other’s embrace. Tragedy strikes when Wesley is lost at sea and five years later, in her heartbreak, Buttercup is convinced to marry the crown prince of the kingdom, Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Misfortune follows Buttercup once more when she’s kidnapped by a trio of thugs, Fezzik (André the Giant), Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and Vizzini (Wallace Shawn). Their plan to murder her and frame a rival kingdom for the crime hits a complication when they begin being followed by a mysterious stranger. As the film unfolds, we see who this enigmatic individual is and whether they’ll be Buttercup’s salvation or seal her fate…
One of the film’s core strengths is its excellently crafted screenplay. The writing is so wonderfully camp that it’s a real pleasure to have a film which leans so strongly and unabashedly into the ridiculousness of its premise, setting, and characters. There are elements of children’s fantasy storytelling in how the script approaches its characters. The physically imposing giant is slow but strong; the swashbuckling swordsman is passionate and impetuous; the hero is charming and suave; the villains are sadistic and conniving. It would have been easy for the film to leave the characters as one-dimensional archetypes but it goes out of its way to give each of our protagonist characters depth by additions to their personalities you might not expect. There is ONE very noteworthy exception, Buttercup, who I’ll go into more detail in the final paragraph of this section in order to give her her proper due…
The performances from the cast are strong across the board with pretty much everyone digging their teeth into their roles with relish. Elwes, André and Sarandon do a very respectable turn in their roles and do well at embodying their roles to a remarkable degree. The real shining standouts, however, are Patinkin and Shawn as the hotheaded Inigo and arrogant Vizzini respectively. Patinkin brings a remarkable amount of emotional depth to his character which finds a wonderful pay off for his character in the conclusion of his narrative arc. Shawn gives Vizzini a very frenetic energy which makes him a fun foil in the scenes he interacts with the other characters. This strong performances are universal for almost all of our protagonists except for Wright who, unfortunately, did not appear to be given much to do with her role…
To say that this film is “of its time” with regards to how it depicts women is a bit of an understatement. This isn’t a misogyny which outright abuses or desires to harm women but rather it does really think them capable of the sort of adventure its male protagonists have throughout the course of the story. Buttercup, the film’s only named woman character, is completely ineffectual in the entirety of the film with her having no autonomy for almost every scene she’s in. You might be fooled into thinking that this is a result of her heartbreak and captivity in the first act but the rest of the film only seeks to reinforce the fact that no, she is a one-dimensional damsel in distress whose personality is only defined by her relationship to Wesley. If this aspect is something that upsets you, this film may not be for you…
The film has a distinct and pleasant visual direction which really works to reinforce the fairytale feel of the story. The visual style doesn’t lean into the camp and ridiculous as much as the writing does but it’s certainly present. Each of the characters are dressed in a faux-medieval garb and, despite the muted tones, still appear quite colourful and visually distinct. The cinematography is also quite pretty with plenty of shots of pictaresque countryside interspersed with fetid swamps, castles, villages and torture chambers.
The film’s soundtrack maintains a thematic consistency with its orchestral pieces serving to punctuate the film’s emotional beats without pulling the audience out of its medieval setting. The film’s main theme, Storybook Love, in particular has a soft and pleasant melody which reinforces the gentle love of Wesley and Buttercup with the guitar notes hanging in the air with ethereal violin notes keeping a steady backing pace. It’s a lovely piece of music and will likely stick with you after the film’s runtime has finished. The rest of the soundtrack is largely unremarkable with a couple of quirky exceptions here and there but it does serve to adequately hit the emotional points of the film’s story.
I very much enjoyed my time with this film and it’s easy to see how it earned its cult classic status. The film’s story is wonderfully witty and sweet but has some problems with how it depicts its woman lead. The film’s visuals are fun and compliment the film’s storybook feel wonderfully. The soundtrack has an incredibly strong main theme amongst an otherwise unremarkable but fine orchestral score. There’s a lot in this movie to love and it’s easy to see why so many people love. I can absolutely recommend this film to almost everyone but do have some caveats for individuals who would not do well with the caveats I’ve raised. It was a pleasure to see it on the big screen in a theatre.
For other films which In The House is screening, feel free to check out their schedule for the next season here.
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