Grace (Selena Gomez) is a gentle Texan soul on the brink of high school graduation. She's endured the indignity of waiting on condescending classmates at the local diner for a singular reason: She's funding a trip to Paris. There, she imagines, everything will be different, including herself. Contributing to the anticipation is the fact that Emma (Kate Cassidy), Grace's fun-loving 21-year-old co-worker and friend, is coming along for the adventure.

Grace's planned escape from her normal life is foiled, however, when her Mom (Andi McDowell) and new stepfather (Brett Cullen) announce at the last minute that they've arranged for her uptight stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) to join them on the trip. Meg and Emma, former classmates, have a history of animosity, and Meg and Grace's forced sister relationship is off to a similarly rocky start. But all three girls are drawn enough by the allure of Paris to agree to the terms of the vacation.

The trip, however, fails to live up to expectations, chiefly due to the fact that the whirlwind tour they've enrolled in offers low-rent accommodations and barely more than drive-by glimpses of iconic landmarks. When a missed bus leaves the girls stranded and miserable in the Paris rain, Grace concedes that the trip she has been planning all her life is a disaster. But things take a turn for the adventurous when the girls duck into a posh hotel lobby for a brief respite and discover that Grace is a dead-ringer for a snotty jet-setting London heiress, Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also played by Gomez). Through a series of only-in-a-movie plot twists, Grace is mistaken for Cordelia and all three girls are whisked off to a world of high fashion and handsome young men in Monte Carlo. Plenty of low-stakes hijinks and wholesome young adult romance ensues.

Selena Gomez as Grace

Selena Gomez as Grace

Monte Carlo is the sort of movie that critics love to hate. The plot is paper-thin, familiar (especially to any in the tween demographic who remember The Lizzy McGuire Movie), and propelled by numerous improbable coincidences. The writers employ a shameless string of rom-com clichés (Mistaken Identity! A Stolen Necklace! A romantic night that culminates in fireworks! A short and quirky French police inspector! Do-gooder impulses propelled by Ghandi quotes!) And yet, having attended a screening with my nine-year-old daughter (a bulls-eye for Disney Star Gomez's target demographic), I must confess that we were thoroughly entertained.

Fox is wisely advertising Monte Carlo as a great move for mothers to take their daughters to, tacitly acknowledging it works best for young girls and those who drive them. Understood in these terms, the movie is a success, and I wouldn't be surprised if it has enough charm to draw in a larger teen/young adult girls' and date night contingent.

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Despite the unoriginal storyline, the screenplay actually excels in the area of dialogue, and the young cast handles each role with surprising nuance. A pair of Gossip Girl stars, each of whom has considerable command of the screen, plays Grace's sidekicks. As Meg, Meester is equal parts need-to-control and need-to-let-go in a quest to somehow recover from the death of her mother. Both her prickliness and her pathos are believable, and they make her transformation throughout the movie highly rewarding for the audience. Cassidy (daughter of 70s teen icon David Cassidy) is a delight as Emma, the young woman who dropped out of high school to pursue fame and fortune (and appear on the cover of a Clip and Save catalog), only to find herself stuck in small town life with a guy she loves but fears may fence her in forever. In a wonderfully underplayed scene, Emma attends a Monte Carlo dinner party with a Count and finally sees the shallowness of the life she's aspired to; it's one of the finest moments of the film.

Leighton Meester as Meg

Leighton Meester as Meg

Next to Meester and Cassidy, Gomez (best known for Wizards of Waverly Place, Ramona and Beezus, and her success as pop star) seems young and a bit out of her depth. Especially problematic is the inconsistent and indefinable British accent she employs as Cordelia, which makes Lindsey Lohan's acting as the English twin in The Parent Trap seem downright Shakespearean. For the most part, however, Gomez has an uncomplicated but undeniable warmth that suits the role well; she is younger than her co-characters, and she is out of her depth as an 18-year-old in a world both geographically and economically foreign. She cries over ruined bus tours and potentially doomed romances exactly the way most 18-year-olds would, and it makes the movie work for those who are at the right age (or love someone at the right age) to relate.

The supporting cast contributes to the film's appeal as well, particularly the young men called upon to play the three main love interests. Glee's Cory Monteith is easy to root for (and undeniably charismatic) as the good old Texas boy who follows Emma to France. Luke Bracey is appropriately hunky and engaging as Riley, the backpacking Australian who manages to charm Meg out of her protective shell. And Pierre Boulanger shines in his first English-speaking role as Theo, the privileged son of a Monte Carlo philanthropist who finds more than he expected when Cordelia comes to town.

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Cory Monteith as Owen

Cory Monteith as Owen

Romance is handled with refreshing wholesomeness. Love interests exhibit undeniable chemistry without bedding each other, giving the romantic arcs in the movie an old-fashioned charm and imbuing the few kisses that do take place with much greater dramatic impact. While older viewers might find the chasteness of the relationships corny (more than one reviewer has called the film "Sex in the City without the sex"), the filmmakers have done a nice job both keeping their demographic in view and proving that love stories can be told without an inevitable bedroom scene.

In addition to a sparkling cast, good romantic chemistry, and surprisingly nuanced dialogue, the locations themselves in Monte Carlo contribute to the film's success as expected in a travel movie. While cinematographer Jonathan Brown gives us a somewhat disappointing Paris in keeping with the characters' experiences there, he lenses Monte Carlo's famous "Hotel de Paris" and glittering harbor with enough luminosity to inspire the appropriate level of travel lust. And the movie's secret weapon is Michael Giacchino's soundtrack, a relentlessly infectious big band funfest that helps the movie feel bigger, more glamorous and more grown-up than it actually is.

Director Thomas Bezucha reviews a scene with Gomez

Director Thomas Bezucha reviews a scene with Gomez

The making of Monte Carlo has a long and winding history. Fox purchased the rights to Jules Bass's novel Headhunters—about four New Jersey women who pose as heiresses in search of husbands in Monte Carlo—before it was even published in 1999. By 2007 the story had been completely rewritten and Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts had been cast to play middle-aged schoolteachers on an overseas adventure. In 2010, Fox scrapped those plans to target the film toward a younger demographic and use it as a vehicle for Gomez. Long, collaborative processes driven by the marketplace don't generally produce works of great art; that is certainly the case with Monte Carlo. But a winsome cast, a great location, and a commendable effort to keep the age and perspective of the target audience firmly in view have produced an entertaining 109 minutes of escapism in a story that manages to have both a conscience and a heart. As a mom who's been asked to sit through much, much less, I'll take it.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Grace thought she'd have a chance to become someone new in Paris. Do you think she did? Do you think it's possible for people to change when they're in a new location? Can people change without going to a new location?
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  1. Grace decided she needed to keep posing as Cordelia in order to make sure the children's charity received the auction proceeds. Was she right? Does "the end justify means"? Is there anything else she could have done?
  2. Grace quoted Ghandi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world." What does that quote mean to you?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Monte Carlo is rated PG for brief mild language. The movie depicts young adults engaging in acts of deception, but this behavior is shown to have consequences and all the main characters ultimately seem to be governed by a strong sense of right and wrong. Given the romantic themes, the film is surprising wholesome; a few chaste kisses are shown.

Monte Carlo
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(12 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (for brief mild language)
Directed By
Thomas Bezucha
Run Time
1 hour 49 minutes
Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy
Theatre Release
July 01, 2011 by 20th Century Fox
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