Grace (Selena Gomez) has been saving up for her post-high school graduation trip to Paris for years. She and her friend Emma (Kate Cassidy) will spend a week touring the sights — touring the sights really fast, as the tour company Grace picked zooms visitors by all the highlights of Paris. Just before the girls leave, however, Grace’s mom Pam (Andie McDowell) throws a wrench in the plans. Because she doesn’t want Grace in Paris with just wild-girl Emma and because Pam recently married Robert (Brett Cullen), who also has a daughter, and is looking for a way to bring the new family together, Robert’s daughter Meg (Leighton Meester), who is a junior in college, is given a ticket and told to join Grace and Emma on the trip. None of the girls is thrilled about the arrangement — Meg hasn’t gotten over her mother’s death and doesn’t get along with Emma. And Grace and Meg both resent the forced sisterhood. But Robert bought them flight upgrades, so the girls decide to tough it out.
And tough it is, at first. As the tour rushes from one sight to another, the girls wind up getting left behind. Wandering a rainy Paris, unable to find their cut-rate hotel, they stumble into a high-end hotel, past a group of paparazzi, and head to the bathroom. While Grace is in a stall, the reason for the photographers walks in — British heiress Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also Gomez). As Cordelia chatters away on her cell phone about some charity event she’s forced to attend and is looking to get out of, Meg and Emma give an up-and-down, side-to-side stare at the girl who is the spitting image of their friend. Even their outfits are kind of similar. So much so that after Cordelia slips out of the hotel and Emma, Grace and Meg leave the bathroom, the hotel staff mistakes Grace for Cordelia. At first, the girls try to correct the error but then the staff wheels out a lobster and, well, after all, it is raining outside.
What starts off as a plan to stay for a few hours in the ritzy hotel room ends up with the girls traveling to Monte Carlo, where Grace tries to pass as Cordelia through a week of events. Along the way, Emma gets to enjoy the high times she’s been seeking and Meg gets to unwind.
By which I mean, there are boys.
Gracedelia strikes up a flirty relationship with Theo (Pierre Boulanger), the son of the man whose charity is holding the events that brought her to Monte Carlo. Meg keeps bumping into Riley (Luke Bracey), a handsome, backpacking Australian. Emma, who fought with longtime boyfriend Owen (Cory Monteith) before she left because he didn’t want her to go to Paris (how will she then be able to stay down on the farm), even catches the eye of a prince (Giulio Berruti).
I was all ready to be outraged about some facet of Emma’s love life. I felt sure we were headed to either the-prince-saves-her or a-girl-should-listen-to-her-boyfriend territory. But neither happened. While you could totally guess the ending based on my description or a viewing of the trailer, I have to say, the movie executes it fairly well. Ditto to the other romances. This may be a fairy tale, but the girls do the learning and growing themselves. You get fewer dumb ideas about love from this movie than you would from your average pre-1980s Disney cartoon or any romantic comedy in the last 20 years.
In fact, for all that the Blu-ray of Monte Carlo won’t be on my Christmas list, it’s a surprisingly well-crafted little movie. It’s relatively tame but not unbelievably so. The characters have some personality and depth to them — nobody is over-the-top horrible or goody-goody. There’s a light, bubbly 1960s European caper film feel to the movie but it manages to not be daffy. And while none of these young actors should clear space on the shelf for an Oscar, I was impressed with how regular they were — not hammy, over-sexed, mean-spirited or shrill in the way that so many teens in movies and on TV shows (like Meester’s own Gossip Girls) can be.
A tame movie full of regular-people characters — there’s a line you won’t see on the movie poster. But considering the target audience, it feels like just the kind of movie middle school and young high school girls’ parents would be happy to drive them to. B-
Rated PG for brief mild language. Directed by Thomas Bezucha and written by Bezucha, April Blair, Maria Maggenti and Kelley Bow (from the novel Headhunters by Jules Bass), Monte Carlo is an hour and 49 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Fox 2000.