A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits (2016)

A magical musical treat for the dreamer in all of us.

If the Shoe Fits is the fourth entry in the six-film Cinderella Story series — but who’s counting? Beginning with Hilary Duff’s A Cinderella Story in 2004, a teen musical romantic-comedy that modernized the classic Cinderella fairytale, the films have seen some notable small-screen stars don the glass slipper: from Disney Channel sensation Selena Gomez to Lucy Hale, who got her big break on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars (2010-17). In this fourth installment, the multi-talented Sofia Carson — best known for playing Evie, the Evil Queen’s daughter, in the Descendants films — goes from rags to riches as the girl covered in cinders. Committed performances coupled with Carson’s dynamic screen presence, some slick song-and-dance numbers, and a light, breezy tone make A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits a pretty good time. It’s the sort of thing you watch to munch on popcorn with the family and switch off for 90 or so minutes.

Kickin’ it into gear

Based on characters created by Leigh Dunlap, the movie opens with a fast and flashy music sequence, ‘Full Throttle’ sung by Sofia Carson, her revved-up performance really setting the tone. It’s here where we meet Tessa Golding (played by, yep, Sofia Carson), a teenage mechanic who dreams of becoming a pop sensation one day. But it’s more of a pipe dream or fantasy for poor Tessa, who’s been a long-suffering servant of her cruel stepmother Divine (Jennifer Tilly), and bratty half-sisters Athena (Amy Louise Wilson) and Olympia (Jazzara Jaslyn), following her father’s untimely passing. While a talented singer and dancer, Tessa works in her late father’s garage repairing motor vehicles.

Our story is centered around a live recorded musical production of (you guessed it) ‘Cinderella,’ with Athena and Olympia both wanting the lead in the musical, where they’ll star alongside hunky pop star Reed West (Thomas Law). The female who impresses and heads the stage spectacle will also receive a contract with Reed’s record label — this totally sweetens the deal. Tessa, of course, is forced to accompany her stepfamily to the competitive audition, which is being held at the luxurious Royal Lagoon Resort. But Tessa is only tagging along as their personal assistant, forbidden to even consider trying out for the principal part.

Dance it off

As luck would have it, Tessa befriends the show’s makeup artist Georgie (Nicole Fortuin), who works as the film’s Fairy Godmother, and tries to convince Tessa to give the audition a whirl. Although reluctant, Tessa agrees, realizing that she may have what it takes to be the next big thing. Thus, Tessa is dolled up and given a full make-over with a blonde wig to conceal her identity; she assumes the persona of ‘Bella Snow,’ a British pop star with an outlandishly patchy accent. It’s all a little silly, but that’s part of the fun. Of course, Tessa’s transformation triggers a crazy series of hijinks and complications that could throw off her hopes of a happily ever after. However, what becomes most problematic is her relationship with Reed, as our heroine forms a bond with him as both Tessa, who helps the stage crew fix a motorcycle prop, and Bella, who dazzles him during her dance audition.

I may have seen the original Cinderella Story at some point, but it’s clearly left that much of an impression that I can’t remember a single thing about it. But that’s not important. What is important, however, is A Cinderella Story 4, which, to be honest, is super entertaining, in a cheesy kind of way. While the screenplay by Elena Song, Bring It On: In It to Win It (2007), is corny, campy and clichéd, feeding kids messages of being true to oneself and all that jazz, it keeps true to the series’ premise of giving the time-honored tale a contemporary spin. And, just like the other films in the franchise, the magic has been omitted, and the narrative is rooted in reality — well, ‘reality’ meaning there are no enchantments or spells that revert at the stroke of midnight, because, really, none of these rom-com-type movies are remotely realistic. A cynical outlook, I know, but it’s true.

Hannah Montana vibes

Directed by choreographer-turned-moviemaker Michelle Johnston, A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits is competently helmed and checks all the right boxes. Despite being a made-for-TV movie, it certainly has some cinematic flair; this does not look or feel like a direct-to-video production. The music is lively and upbeat, and the dance ditties, though few and far between, enjoyable, chiefly a toe-tapping sequence that begins in a cafeteria and winds up on the beach. It makes perfect sense that the music and dance moments stand out because Johnston’s area of expertise is choreography. I can see why producers have turned to Johnston to helm the fifth Cinderella Story, Christmas Wish (2019), and the sixth, Starstruck (2021).

If the Shoe Fits is nicely lensed, too, and elevated by its well-designed sets and colorful costumes. Filmmakers also get the chance to flex their creative chops in a handful of comic sequences; there’s a bit where Carson’s Bella and Tessa need to be in two places at once, and this is fun and nicely staged. Although the film is wholly predictable, there is enough slapstick and silliness to satisfy the little ones; the finale is especially farcical.

Swoon-worthy prince

Performances are commendable, all things considered — you’ve got to admire everyone’s eagerness. Sofia Carson is exceptionally charismatic; you can’t take your eyes off her! She conveys enough humanity and heart as the overalls-wearing Tessa and nails the comedy stuff as the more stylish Bella. Moreover, Carson aces all the singing and dancing scenes and looks very much at ease when on a stage or physically performing. Her presence, confidence, and sheer pep are infectious. Equally as game is Jennifer Tilly, Bound (1996), who gives a wickedly feisty turn as Tessa’s overbearing, fame thirsty, and controlling stepmother Divine. Tilly goes full OTT and is totally relishing the lunacy and absurdity of the role — as if Divine can’t see through Tessa’s ridiculous disguise or recognize that her taxidermy dog Sparkles isn’t alive. Thomas Law of EastEnders (2006-10) is particularly dreamy as Cinderella’s Prince Charming, Reed West; and then there’s David Ury, from television’s Breaking Bad (2009), who is amusing in his trickle of scenes as Reed’s disheveled agent Freddie Marks, who’s rattled for much of the film.

Never overstaying its welcome, A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits is a surprisingly pleasant timewaster. Look, if you absolutely must sit through one of these seemingly similar Cinderella Story flicks, I’d say make it this one. The cast delivers, and Carson is magnetic. Who knows, it may even reignite your faith in everyday magic.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Stu Cachia (S-Littner)

A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits is released through Warner Bros. Australia