Rob Reiner’s tongue-in-cheek fantasy is so ubiquitous that it’s surprising to learn it wasn’t a huge hit upon initial release (“Inconceivable!”). Perhaps that’s by design. After all, it tells the simple love story between Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her loyal farm-boy Westley (Cary Elwes), the dastardly Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) who keeps them apart, and the thieves, rogues, miracle-workers, Shrieking Eels, and Rodents of Unusual Size they meet along the way. Stuff you’ve seen or read a million times before, cleverly obscuring the fact that THE PRINCESS BRIDE is really fucking funny.
Comedy is subjective. Family films age poorly. Fairy tales are kids’ stuff. What cold-hearted cynic decided this crap?
THE PRINCESS BRIDE is the exception that proves these rules, all while sitting pretty in their confines. Talk about a tough balancing act. A lot had to go right in the making of this movie, and even hyper-literate cineastes should recognize this. Its storybook sets are juuust phony-looking enough. The earwormy music comes courtesy of Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler (!). Top-notch casting relegates Billy Crystal to a cameo and gives Andre The Giant all the best lines (“I only dog-paddle.”). Perhaps most important is William Goldman’s sly dialogue, adapted from his own novel and reportedly his favorite of his own work (“Back in my day, television was called books!”).
It’s easy to see why Goldman feels that way. THE PRINCESS BRIDE takes another big rule in movies—that which is made for everyone will please no one—and easily shatters it. Comedy nerds, theater geeks, fantasy goons, romance devotees, swashbuckling aficionados (do these exist?) all purport to love it. Plus, duh, kids love it too: swordplay and slapstick for the younger kids, wordplay and innuendo for the older kids, and a goofy, genial nature for everyone else.
It would take a miracle akin to the perfect mutton-lettuce-tomato sandwich for another live-action film to emerge that’s as universally beloved as this one. It’s been called “the WIZARD OF OZ of our time”, and that can’t be too far off. Except THE PRINCESS BRIDE, as it gracefully moves between parody, homage, and unabashed sincerity, avoids pulling the proverbial curtain back too far, so you can appreciate it on its own terms.
FAMILY MOVIE SUNDAYS – THE PRINCESS BRIDE
Sunday, November 17, 2:00pm
Boston Public Library (Copley Square, Rabb Lecture Hall, 700 Boylston St., Boston, MA, 02116)
Free to the public