THREE STARS - WHOLESOME
The mythical journey from commoner to princess in “The Princess Diaries” reveals the universal desire to become an uncommon person. Like the biblical story of Moses in which the child of a slave becomes the “Prince of Egypt,” or the fictional tale of “Cinderella” in which an unwanted stepchild becomes queen, or “The Ugly Duckling” fable in which a gangly creature becomes a prince, the insecurity of our early lives only betrays our spiritual awareness that we are much more than what we appear: we are persons of royal worth. What is missing from living out our true identities is the courage to be who we were created to be.
This wholesome message suitable for young children and adults alike is told once more by director Garry Marshall with little novelty but contemporary faithfulness to the theme.
The commoner in this San Francisco tale is the gangly fifteen year-old, Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway). Living with her artistic mother in a remodeled fire station, Mia is unaware that her absent father was actually the crowned prince of a small but proud European nation.
When her father dies and the fate of the monarchy is threatened because he has no other heirs, Mia and her mother Helen (Caroline Goodall) are visited by Mia’s grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews). It is in this visit that Mia is informed of her true lineage. It is so disconcerting that Mia rejects its meaning and implications.
This revelation is symbolic of all spiritual awakenings. Many people are unaware of their true spiritual selves until someone informs them that they are persons of infinite worth. This revelation can be disturbing. Having lived life as though the small, physical surroundings we’ve known is all there is to life, this flash of insight not only reveals things hitherto unseen, but it is also painfully blinding.
Mia has accepted her place in life as an intelligent geek whose best friend Lilly (Heather Matarazzo), reinforces her rejection of the “beautiful people.” But when her mother convinces her to agree to the training and pampering her royal pedigree allows, Mia is transformed into a princess both physically and relationally. But the journey is a rocky one as Lilly’s jealousy and Mia’s new-found popularity both place Mia in relational and spiritual danger.
One of the best examples of this is her relationship with Lilly’s brother Michael (Robert Schwatzman). Michael has been able to see the beauty of Mia even before she goes through her transformation. Yet when the handsome athlete Josh Bryant (Erik von Detten) asks her to a beach party, Mia quickly dismisses Michael to be with Josh. This betrayal is a test of the transformation required in spiritual life. True spiritual transformation does not reject family and friends, but instead brings family and friends into the larger world, embracing spirituality and its activities and celebrations.
In predictable ways, the journey Mia travels becomes real as she turns to those who loved her in her common state and brings both Lilly and Michael into her new world and to her coronation ball. But to make it to that point requires Mia to face her fears and inferiorities and, with her father’s posthumous encouragement, to have the courage to accept the responsibilities and privileges of a princess’ life. This is a tale with which most spiritually reborn persons can identify.