GODMOTHERED Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace rediscovers the joy of Christmas.
The traditional Christmas story or the traditional fairy tale has been so often told that the most obvious thing to do with them, nowadays, seems to be to deconstruct them mercilessly. For the latter, Shrek was the herald for such a trend in film. It almost seems that the wonder and joy of these stories has been slowly whittled away in an attempt to show ‘realism’ by sucking out all that which made people love them before.

And so we get to Godmothered, the new Disney+ release for the 2020 holiday season. It’s not the sort of thing I usually watch, but given the time of year I figured I might as well give it a spin.

The plot concerns Eleanor, the youngest student in the training course to become a fairy godmother for little girls. The entire enterprise of godmothering has gone into a steep decline by virtue of society simply no longer believing in ‘happily ever after.’ There are no more little girls who want to be godmothered, until Eleanor finds a letter from a girl asking for one in the now-derelict request segment of the godmother academy (called ‘Motherland’ - I was mildly disappointed that there was no oblique Soviet Union joke, but that’s what I get for being an alternate historian watching a fairy godmother movie). Eleanor finds a way to our world in a great hurry, desiring to finally practice her calling, but alas this girl, MacKenzie, is now an adult, a mother with children working at a news channel. As one would expect from this premise, hilarity ensues.

That hilarity is brought forth by some truly impressive performances. Eleanor, portrayed by Jillian Bell, encounters twenty-first century Boston with an endearing naivete and a bubbly enthusiasm for all the things that baffle her that are quotidian to us. You really see how Eleanor cares about what she does, and how much she believes in the worthiness of ‘happily ever after’ even if America doesn’t. Foiling her is the object of her godmotherly affections, Isla Fisher's Mackenzie, who portrays with sometimes heartbreaking pathos the misery of twenty-first century aimlessness. It’s the interaction between these two wildly different characters that is the cornerstone of the entire film, and it works fantastically. Eleanor is the old-fashioned magical thesis, Mackenzie is the worldly wise and cynical antithesis, and the plot is the synthesis of those two contradictory philosophies.
Godmothered is set around Christmastime as Eleanor makes her way to Boston, but I would argue the fact that it is Christmas does not play a huge role in the plot. It reads as something like a more optimistic version of the way The Apartment used its New Years setting as a way of emphasizing a feeling of isolation. Here, that isolation is gradually peeled away as Eleanor teaches Mackenzie how to believe in happiness again. The spirit of gathering that defines modern Christmas (at least when the world isn’t writhing in pandemic-induced agony) intensifies the urgency of Eleanor’s cause.

The settings here are interesting for several reasons. I really liked the Victorian-style Motherland, its old architecture contrasting with the very modern Boston, symbolizing the fundamental conflict of the plot. A certain basement works well for symbolizing isolation. The news station setting, Mackenzie’s day job, immerses you in the rapid-fire pace of modern life, away from the seemingly timeless world of fairy tales.

The writing in this movie is great. The banter between Eleanor and Mackenzie and the latter’s children is witty in its comic moments and moving in its dramatic ones. When the humor is present, it relies heavily on puns. As someone who became reviled in college for a surfeit of puns and had such be one of his favorite aspects of the James Bond series, I quite enjoyed all the wordplay. Much of the humor derives from the clash of worldviews; the ‘normal’ people Eleanor interacts with tends to respond with something resembling, much like Kurt Russell’s Santa Claus in The Christmas Chronicles either “are you high?” or “am I high?” This is made explicit in a brief scene in the beginning with a confused truck driver, played by Olga Merediz, who I found to be a standout in a film brimming with many wonderful things.

To delve into a niche aspect I like talking about, Godmothered not only portrays a social partner dance accurately, but in a manner that works with the plot. There’s a moment at a party when, under Eleanor’s magical influence, Mackenzie dances a Viennese Waltz with a coworker that Eleanor is convinced is a prince. A lot of the movie is about updating outdated parts of the fairy godmother story, and this is represented by the reversal of the traditional male and female roles in this dance. The moves are quite accurate, with Mackenzie leading and her ‘prince’ following, inverting the old way of dancing this dance and making it, like the fairy godmother story, very new. It’s a small detail that the movie could well have been neglected, but the writers took care to do their due diligence. As a dancer reeling from a lack of dance in lockdown, I loved it.

Godmothered is a movie, ultimately, about how the world has lost its magic. I’ve seen it in science fiction, where the old stuff I read from more than half a century ago feels so bold and optimistic and full of wonder and possibility, much more so than the modern genre (not to say there’s nothing good in modern science fiction; there’s plenty, but it’s not the same thing it was back then). It’s a movie about how old-school notions of a happy ending and interpersonal connection are still very relevant, perhaps more relevant than they ever have been, in a world that has ripped us apart from each other even before the pandemic, where we are reduced to mere collections of numbers. Godmothered took it upon itself to remind us that we are all human beings, unique and with our own blessings, and that those are not things that must be cheapened or thrown away so easily. In that, it performs a great service.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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