Cruella review: Emma Stone is rioting in incredibly stylish Disney version of the fashion film
Director: Craig Gillespie. Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong. 12A, 134 minutes
In 1996, Glenn Close slipped across fur and feather screens, with an electric shock from a black and white wig perched on his head and a chuckle that could summon the dead. Her portrayal of Cruella de Vil, in Disney’s live-action adaptation of her 1961 animated classic 101 Dalmatians, has long felt positively final. And so, that’s a big compliment to Emma Stone’s performance in Cruella– play a young, mostly reinvented version of the character – that she never feels like she’s struggling with the shadow of her predecessor.
Here, the character was transplanted in the seventies, just as the punk movement raged through the streets of London and scratched against the door of the establishment. Stone’s aristocratic and slightly parody English twang was borrowed from her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles in the 2014 production of Cabaret. But she soaks each of her lines in champagne and truffles, savoring each “dahling” that passes her lips.
She is a perfect centerpiece for a movie like Cruella. Mischievously elegant and an absolute gas, this is essentially a fashion flick, full of immaculate dresses and shameless staging. Dana Fox and Tony McNamara’s screenplay has “Cruella” simply being a nickname given to Estella’s average natural streak, which she did to bury well as a promise to her caring (and very dead) mother Catherine (Emily Beecham ). It’s a much less aggressive attempt to rehabilitate a villain than that of 2014 Maleficent, who dumped buckets of tragedy on The Sleeping BeautyThe relatively straightforward story of a pissed off witch about not being invited to a party. Cruella was never good, just in denial.
Director Craig Gillespie is content to step aside and leave costume designer Jenny Beavan (who won an Oscar for Mad Max: Fury Road) tell the main story through his heavenly creations. As Estella rises through the ranks of the fashion industry, she comes up against the fierce Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), finding herself both repelled and enchanted by such a narcissistic genius. Cruella sees a war waged in silk, leather and lace, with Estella’s DIY aesthetic – her outfits seemingly cobbled together from scraps of fabric – pitted against the precise silhouettes of the Baroness’ traditional Dior fashion house. What we see later of a fully realized Cruella is a blend of the two, in a clever nod to how Vivienne Westwood, one of the original fashion punks, embraced and subverted the fashion history as it gained mainstream success.
And, since clothes do most of the work, it’s everyone’s job just to keep up. Nicholas Britell’s jazzy score is paired with an entire jukebox of vintage hits – who ever thought the Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, full of sexual overtones, would end up in a Disney movie? Gillespie, meanwhile, keeps the film smooth and sleek, including a nod to GoodfellasThe famous follow-up photo of the city of Copacabana, as the camera winds its way through the belly of London’s Liberty department store.
Stone’s performance is impressive enough not to be swallowed up by the wigs and costumes, while it sprinkles a hurt little pride to make Cruella’s madness feel truly pathetic. But the film is also owned by its on-screen rival – and Thompson is brilliantly contemptible, landing somewhere in between. The devil wears Prada‘s Miranda Priestly and Phantom wire‘s Reynolds Woodcock. The actor keeps Stone on his toes, lest she sweep the film under her. While Joel Fry’s Jasper, Paul Walter Hauser’s Horace, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Anita Darling bring sweetness and heart to the film, the real thrill here is seeing two terrific comic book actors tear each other fully dressed as new. Cruella is the hottest aerial combat of the year.