Monte Carlo isn’t a Disney movie, but it’s undoubtedly one that’s been fashioned for the Disney Channel audience. More specifically, it appeals to tweenish female fans of “Wizards of Waverly Place,” which stars the unequivocally wholesome yet simultaneously Bieber-banging Selena Gomez. This is the second feature film for Gomez (last seen in the regrettable Ramona and Beezus); here, she alternates between a pair of horrific accents — Texan and English — as two different characters, Grace and Cordelia, respectively speaking. Yes, she’s cute, but Gomez is an awkwardly insufficient film actress and doesn’t possess nearly enough presence to graduate into a full-fledged movie star at all. On the small screen, she’s adequate enough as a wisecracking teenage wizard, but anything that requires any semblance of emotional depth or even a crisis of conscience is just too much for her. In the absence of a laugh track, Gomez appears lost and unsure of herself, and she quite nearly fades into the scenery of Monte Carlo, which isn’t exactly sure what to do with its nearly invisible lead actress. As a travelogue though, it sure is pretty enough to look at.
As far as Monte Carlo goes, the story is simple and quite familiar; that is, if you’re game to a few limp-wristed comparisons with the likes of Roman Holiday Twelfth Night. Grace has just graduated from high school and, as such, has painstakingly saved up her waitressing tips and wages to afford a senior trip of sorts to France. Originally, the plan was for Grace to merely travel with her BFF, Emma (Katie Cassidy), but Grace’s mom (Andie McDowell — remember her?) insists that she take her soon-to-be step-sister, Meg (Leighton Meester), along for the ride. Of course, Meg and Emma completely dislike each other, which seems like a bad omen from the very beginning. Upon arrival in the City of Lights, the girls’ budget allows only for the cattle-style tour bus view of Paris; then they end up getting separated from the group, and it starts pouring down rain, which leads them to believe that Paris really, like, sucks.
Fortunately, Grace almost immediately gets mistaken for an uppity British heiress, Cordelia Winthrop-Scott, and she and her friends are immediately whisked away into high society life. After a night in a luxury hotel suite with Cordelia’s luggage, which arrived despite her absence (apparently, she’s off partying), the trio ends up on the socialite’s scheduled flight on a private jet to Monte Carlo.
At this point, the movie would ideally (in terms of low standards) lean into a zany, madcap adventure with a huge confrontation over mistaken identity at the end. Instead, we get the three girls oohing and ahhing over pretty dresses, expensive jewelry, and really cute boys while simultaneously freaking out over the omnipresent threat of discovery. All of this anxiety (which lasts a week’s duration) pervades throughout much of what should’ve been the real thrill ride portion of the picture; consequentially, the characters cannot even allow themselves to really enjoy their change of fortune, and the fact that Selena and Co. are totally stressing out makes things a lot less fun for the target audience.
While the screenwriters do make a wee bit of effort to add more than one note to the three main characters — Grace is having trouble coping with her mom’s upcoming marriage; Meg is still struggling with her own mother’s death; and Cassidy has just rejected the marriage proposal of her high-school boyfriend — the storyline turns into a tepid wish-fulfillment fantasy for all three girls; and in the end, the only thing that really matters to these characters isn’t what Grace learns by pretending to be someone else but, instead, the pursuit of wholly chaste romances. There’s also potential for a few laughs when Grace, as Cordelia, finds herself in some embarrassing situations, such as taking on a match of polo (when she clearly cannot play) and hosting a charity ball (when she clearly has no fucking idea what’s going on at all), but all of the presumptive fun gets sucked away by the aforementioned tension. Seriously, Monte Carlo could’ve been a light confection of a forgettable summer movie for tween girls witnessing the dubious joy of high heels as worn by the only scandal-free Disney princess of contemporary times. However, the actual experience is so unnerving that the theater floor shall be littered with scores bitten-off, press-on nails.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.