The star of “Monte Carlo” is a person named Selena Gomez, who is also the star of something called “Wizards of Waverly Place,” a Disney Channel sitcom now in its fourth season. Her arrival in “Monte Carlo” is in accordance with the prophecy that all teenagers employed by the Disney Channel shall one day headline their own tween-friendly feature films. Also, the Internet informs me that Selena Gomez is dating something called “Justin Bieber,” and that this fact fills some of Justin Bieber’s female admirers with rage. That isn’t relevant, but I wanted to mention it because it’s amusing.
I’m too old and have too many Y chromosomes to be in Selena Gomez’s target audience, but I know a sunny and inoffensive comedy when I see one, and “Monte Carlo” is one. It provides young girls with some harmless wish-fulfillment without talking down to them, an increasingly rare quality in movies aimed at young people.
Gomez plays Grace, a wholesome 18-year-old Texas girl who has saved her waitressing money to take a post-graduation trip to Paris. Her companion will be her best friend, Emma (Katie Cassidy), a rowdy blonde and high school dropout who works at the same diner. At the last minute, Grace’s mother (Andie MacDowell) and stepfather (Brett Cullen) declare that her stick-in-the-mud stepsister, 21-year-old Meg (Leighton Meester), will be tagging along, too. Nobody wants this, least of all Meg, who isn’t close to Grace and doesn’t like Emma (or “Texas Barbie,” as she calls her).
As fate would have it, the girls cross paths in Paris with one Cordelia Winthrop Scott, a haughty British heiress who is filthy rich, super-snotty, and happens to be a dead ringer for Grace. (Gomez plays both roles.) The two look so much alike, in fact, that Grace is mistaken for her and winds up in her luxury hotel suite while the real Cordelia skips town to go partying. Meg is opposed to such impersonation shenanigans; Emma is very much in favor of them; good-girl Grace wavers but figures there’s no harm in it, just for tonight, since the room is already paid for and Cordelia isn’t using it anyway.
Naturally, this leads to a week of Grace being shuffled around to Cordelia’s charity fundraisers and polo matches and such, including a stint in Monte Carlo, flanked by her “American friends.” The girls get to wear Cordelia’s fancy clothes and jewelry (her baggage arrived after she left), go to elegant balls, mingle with the upper crust, and maybe — just maybe — fall in love. Grace is romanced by Theo (Pierre Boulanger), a down-to-earth Monte Carlo socialite who thinks she’s Cordelia, and Meg meets a freewheeling Australian tourist named Riley (Luke Bracey). Emma, who has a steady boyfriend (Cory Monteith) back in Texas, goes out with a handsome prince (Giulio Berruti), but realizes the fancy life is not for her.
The mistaken-identity/”Parent Trap” switcheroo premise is, thank goodness, not the focus of the story, and the hijinks typically associated with such nonsense are kept to a minimum. Surprisingly, all three of the female leads are given actual character arcs, simple though they may be, and emerge as sympathetic, fully formed characters. The relationships between them — between Grace and Meg, Meg and Emma, Emma and Grace — are explored, not with any dazzling insight, perhaps, but at least with honesty.
We do have to swallow a lot of dumb stuff, of course, starting with the last-minute decision to force Meg to join the trip, continuing through Emma’s boyfriend’s spontaneous flight to Paris to chase after her, and including the odd fact that Riley coincidentally runs into Meg in Paris and Monte Carlo. The movie followed a tortuous route to existence, enduring many rewrites and overhauls before finally being directed by Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) and co-written by him, April Blair, and Maria Maggenti. (The novel it came from, Jules Bass’ “Headhunters,” was about four middle-aged New Jersey women who go to Monte Carlo and impersonate rich ladies in order to attract wealthy suitors.) The effects of all this tinkering are apparent, yet the finished product is still decent, respectable entertainment, probably suitable for fans of “Wizards of Waverly Place,” whatever that is.
B- (1 hr., 49 min.; )