Obsession is a long-standing movie compulsion. The jealousy and neurosis that the emotion brings forth can create tension, underpin intrigue and lead to violence and has created some great cinema – Cape Fear, Night of the Hunter and Vertigo all spring from obsessiveness.
New Brit-flick Trap For Cinderella mines the spirit of two other tales of infatuation and fascination, Christopher Nolan‘s big-screen breakthrough Memento, and early-90s flatshare nightmare Single White Female.
In the aftermath of a fire, wildchild London hipster Micky (Trance’s girl-in-the-car Tuppence Middleton) pieces together her memories both recent and further out, and tries to make sense of who she is, what happened and where her childhood friend Do (Alexandra Roach), who died in the blaze, fits in to it all.
Trap for Cinderella marks something of a directorial comeback for one of UK cinema’s nearly men, Iain Softley. Having made his name with the rumbunctious Beatles flick Backbeat, he then paired Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie in Hackers, but this is his first outing since 2008’s Inkheart failed to keep the box office tills ringing.
In adapting and updating the 1962 novel by Sebastien Japrisot (who also penned A Very Long Engagement), Softley has modernized one key setting but not the other, making for a somewhat schizophrenic film.
The first, more enjoyable, part is set in contemporary London rather than the novel’s chic Paris. Micky is the consummate hipster party girl – frequently saucer-eyed, and both independent and needy; Do is her antithesis – lonely and dowdy in a city that seems beyond her reach.
They meet, by chance, after many years apart and fall back into friendship.
Do’s presence discomforts Micky’s boyfriend Jake (Aneurin Barnard), who resents the amount of Micky’s time she is taking. Barnard is a fish out of water in this role (and a wet one at that). Admittedly he’s enough of an arsehole to be just the sort of fella a girl like Micky would end up with, but his Hobbity affectations are totally at odds with Jake’s ‘yeah-I-do-a-bit-of-DJing’ character.
Middleton though ticks all the boxes as Micky – impulsive and desirable, she epitomises a part of modern London subculture. Roach is the ideal foil as the mousy, needy Do, thrust into a world that she thought inaccessible, if she were aware of it at all. A key scene where Do turns up at a warehouse party and stands in cowed silence as Micky works it on the dance floor sums up the two characters perfectly.
The second part of the movie jars somewhat, though. The action switches to the French Riviera, sticking with the source novel. Micky’s aunt Elinor (a Grande Dame cameo by Frances de la Tour) has a country pile in the sleepy south, where her assistant Julia (Kerry Fox) is a Machiavellian presence.
The contemporary feel of modern London is replaced by an anachronistic, almost purposefully nostalgic version of the sleepy, monied French south – all Breton stripes and bronzed barmen – that bears an affinity to the Grand Tour experienced by The Talented Mr Ripley.
Indeed, the second act of Trap For Cinderella appears to have French New Wave pretensions, but putting a gamine young woman in a stripy shirt doesn’t make you Jean-Luc Godard.
Anyway, as Micky’s memory returns and realisation nears, the layers of deceit, possibility and (to a degree) incredulity pile up.
The motives of Elinor, Julia and Hobbitty Jake are unclear, and in Micky’s stunted recollection they represent one possibility then another as she pieces things together.
Middleton and Roach are both great, and there’s a decent enough twist. But as it gets signposted a little too obviously and a little too early, by the time of the dramatic denouement this Trap has long since been sprung.