Texan high school graduate Grace Bennett (Selena Gomez) is uncertain about her future until she, her uptight stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) and vivacious friend Emma (Katie Cassidy) seize their chance for a dream holiday in Paris, France (not Texas). Unfortunately the frantic tour gives them no chance to savour the city of lights. It’s all going horribly wrong until the girls duck into the lobby of a luxury hotel where Grace is suddenly mistaken for her identical double: spoiled British heiress, Cordelia Scott (Gomez again). Before she has a chance to reveal her true identity, Grace and her friends are swept along in a series of misadventures in Monte Carlo, where fun and romance await.
For decades Hollywood pursued teenage boys as its ideal target audience until, in a third act twist worthy of a hackneyed teen rom-com, producers realised young girls could prove every bit as profitable a market. The mega-success of Titanic (1997) and Twilight (2008) brought a shift in the kinds of fantasies being catered to, hence movies like Monte Carlo. Based on the novel Headhunters written by Jules Bass, this had a strange journey to the screen, starting out as a more grownup romantic drama set for producer-star Nicole Kidman who retains a producer credit alongside Denise Di Novi who made the charming Ramona and Beezus (2010) also starring Disney teen idol Selena Gomez.
Tapping a universal dream of romance and adventure in exotic climbs along with the fantasy of becoming a different person that encapsulates the allure of Europe for American youngsters since the nineteenth century, Monte Carlo revives a tradition of travelogue romance popularised by films from Three Coins in a Fountain (1954) to Gidget Goes to Rome (1963). It is fluffier than a basket of kittens, but certainly knows how to cater to its target audience as our three winsome heroines indulge a fantasy lifestyle of glamorous frocks and expensive jewels, and naturally find some boy candy along the way. Meg draws laid-back Aussie hunk Riley (Luke Bracey), Grace finds an admirer in hotelier’s son Theo (Pierre Boulanger), whilst effervescent Emma is pursued by a playboy prince though her true love is boyfriend Owen played by Glee star Cory Monteith. In his English language debut, French actor Boulanger fails to make an annoying character even remotely engaging, but Bracey and especially Monteith prove winning foils to the fetching stars. Elsewhere, British comedienne Catherine Tate camps it up as Cordelia’s aunt who threatens to derail Grace’s deception but warms to her instead.
For a comedy the film is short on laughs and the doppelganger conceit borders on the absurd, but its undeniable amiability wins the day. It is a beautifully designed production with subtly retro-Fifties visuals that simultaneously spoof the Hollywood tradition of travelogue scenery whilst wallowing in them. Despite a dodgy attempt at a British accent, Gomez acquits herself capably in her dual roles, though it is actually Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester who shoulders the weightier subplot (emotionally reticent Meg mourns her late mother) while the lesser known Katie Cassidy is charming as the thrill-seeking Texas gal whose eyes are opened to what she has at home. This is probably the only tween movie to feature a direct quote from Gandhi though, despite sporting a potent theme of teen anxieties over the future, its attempts at drama are soap opera thin. On the other hand, speaking as someone with Midwestern friends, it is refreshing to see a film avoid all the American tourist clichés and portray Texans as warm, engaging folks enthusiastic about foreign culture.