Screenwriter Bill Kelly probably imagined Enchanted taking on a much darker life, negotiating the chasm between the reality of sex and relationships and the cutesy version of love peddled by fairy tales and, specifically Disney movies, but the product that came out of it is more than serviceable. Its defanged nature is detectable in the finished film, especially when you read about how the version of Manhattan that bubbly GIselle (Amy Adams) finds herself in is harsher, scarier, the untamed concrete wilderness of one of those ‘80s comedies. I’m thinking, what would it have been like if Adams’ unhinged adventure looked more like Martin Scorsese’s After Hours than, I don’t know, the Disney version of New York City where the male romantic lead (Patrick Dempsey) has a nice apartment overlooking Central Park. Enchanted still has its charms, though, their deconstructionist exercise feeling a lot more like homage than a real concerted effort to interrogate the values of these texts. It’s Into the Woods-lite, and its existence just makes their own spin on the Sondheim musical, directed by Rob Marshall a little less than a decade later, feel redundant, as it, too, was victim of Disney’s navel-gazing neutralizing. But the maturity and calloused irony of whatever may have been in that first draft remains present in Adams’ delirious performance and in one particular scene at, of course, a ball.
Adams’ Giselle is truly from another world, her decisions based on an internal logic that only makes sense in a completely different plane of thought. And though she never really knows how to codify her philosophy about, well, anything, the wheels in her head are always turning just enough for her decisions to make sense to herself, without any sort of irony or weighed down self-consciousness. Even in small moments, like when she spits out a fish into a cup of water at Robert’s (Dempsey) divorce law office, a glow in her eye that’s stranger than the movie ever really becomes beams forth. Her giggles are pure, but also skate the edge of risqué, and it’s easy to imagine the version of this film inspired by raunchy teen movies. But that’s not to say Giselle is sexualized, but that there’s a wink in the performance, an awareness of the allure. There is in her performance an uncanniness that is both quite wonderful and deeply jarring, in the best way possible. She’s both in on the joke, critiquing the infantilized nature of these characters, but also deeply invested in embodying them to give those women humanity. There’s a particular head-bob she does in “That’s How You Know” across a bridge in Central Park that always struck me as a distillation of that: her smile so sweet it could give you cavities, her hair perfect, her arms on her side, her eyes alight, and the motion her head does — a boink boink from side to side, reminiscent of both an animated character from the kind of Disney movie Enchanted references and also someone who thinks this sequence and the song’s ethos are kind of questionable — makes me think that there was this negative capability here: she was both of Giselle and analyzing Giselle with a wily eye.
The movie only catches up to her astuteness without compromise towards the end, when Giselle, her Prince Edward (an ever charming James Marsden), Robert, and his soon-to-be fiancee Nancy (Idina Menzel, lol) have to confront what the film has been building to in terms of its own perspective about love, relationships, and, basically, indoctrination about compulsory heterosexuality. The tension of the film has been not merely that Giselle comes from a different world, but her worldview about love particularly does not seem compatible to Robert and the real world where relationships are work, not play. He teaches her about dates, about getting to know someone, all coded ways about discussing intimacy. Is it intimacy that breaks the spell of [extremely sarcastic online voice] regressive gender norms? Was the immediacy expectation of “happily ever after” and romantic compatibility between Giselle and Prince Edward just a, ahem, fairy tale? Is Robert’s overly rational point of view stifling?
The last dance cues the King and Queen’s waltz, and Giselle and Robert step onto the floor. To the melodically melancholic voice of Jon McLaughlin singing, “A life goes by, romantic dreams must die, so I bid mine goodbye, and never knew”, the film owns up to the unanswerable nature of the question it initially posed. Rather than landing on the pat “maybe they should meet in the middle of their own points of view about love” reply (which the film does end up suggesting, of course), Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s “So Close” and the scene it scores it casts them aside leaves room for the inexplicable alchemy of attraction, spark, and spontaneity. It matters less that there’s been this funny romantically pedagogical relationship between Robert and Giselle and more that this scene, which allows them to sway together in the room to the words “So close to reaching that famous happy ending, almost believing this one’s not pretend”, leaves room for doubt, for eroticism, for sadness, for longing. “So Close” is much closer to the mature, but no less complicated, ambivalence of Sondheim’s fairytale deconstruction, its wistfulness arguably recalling “Moments in the Woods”, where the Baker’s Wife contemplates the life she wishes she had led and the one she does and their irreconcilable nature: “Let the moment go, Don’t forget it for a moment, though, Just remembering you’ve had an ‘and’, When you’re back to ‘or’, Makes the ‘or’ mean more, than it did before”. Here, wanting has its consequences, and it’s one of the few honest moments in the film, one of the few confrontations of the real dissonance between Giselle’s world and the one she found herself in, the discordance between who Giselle thought she was and who she might want to be, and what she might want altogether. Adams’ shrewdly leaves the irony behind here, her gaze towards Robert, and all this New York might represent, a well of unspoken desires. In her performance, and in this scene, you get a feeling that after this, she might know things now.