On this day in 2001, The Princess Diaries premiered in Los Angeles, marking Anne Hathaway’s film debut (can you imagine?) and Julie Andrews’s most memorable onscreen turn since Victor/Victoria. The movie, adapted from Meg Cabot’s 2000 novel, had everything: teenage drama (with Mandy Moore playing Lana, an absolute nightmare of a mean-girl-cheerleader-type), a major makeover scene, rock-climbing, harmonica-playing, and lots of princess stuff.
The Princess Diaries was a sensation then—lest we forget, it spawned two follow-ups—and happily, it still kind of holds up! Below, find some of the thoughts I had—and a few of the things I learned—while revisiting the now-20-year-old classic.Garry Marshall—A League of Their Own Gary Marshall—directed this! Rom-com king!Fat Louie, our heroine Mia Thermopolis’s cat, turns in one of the great feline performances in cinematic history, I’d say. (Other strong contenders: Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Mr. Bigglesworth, and whatever the cat is called in Inside Llewyn Davis.)I get that Mia and her mother’s refurbished firehouse is meant to be arty and weird, but surely a place like that would be extravagantly expensive now? Those ceilings!(Update: In 2015, the house was sold for $1.85 million. Am I a real estate broker?)Their grumpy neighbor, “Mr. Robutusen” … I love him.Whitney Houston co-produced this! Love.Good God, the immortal Sandra Oh as Vice Principal Gupta: “Good morning, Lilly …. Lilly’s friend….”Ew, cool-boy Josh popping cool-girl Lana’s bubblegum with his mouth. Behave! You’re both at school!!Mia’s mom, Helen (Caroline Goodall, who is so charming in this role), is wearing a very cool crocheted top when the two of them meet at Mia’s climbing gym. She tells Mia that her grandmother—“the live one”—has invited Mia to tea.Introducing Mia’s best friend, Lilly Moscovitz, an activist icon. “Are you sure you can’t help me with my spotted owl petition today?”Ugh, Lilly’s brother Michael is so cute. Did you know that that actor, Robert Schwartzman, is Jason Schwartzman’s brother?“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket…” Is that song…kind of a bop?Chuckling at Mia crying “Please don’t crush my soy nuts!” as the Genovian security guards pat down her backpack.I, too, like to identify myself as “Charlotte, from the Genovian Attaché Corps.”Queen Julie—a.k.a. Queen Clarisse Renaldi—appears! Apparently Helen Mirren was also considered for this part, which tracks. (Juliette Lewis, meanwhile, was initially offered the role of Mia.)Mia trying to get her special new locket from Clarisse over her hair is reminding me of Diana Ross and her Medal of Freedom.Mia: “Now, what did you want to tell me?” Clarisse: “Something that I think will have a very big impact upon your life.” Mia: “I already have braces.” Clarisse: “No, it’s bigger than orthodontia.”Mia’s middle name is Mignonette? J’adore!She’s now learning that she’s heir to the throne of Genovia. When did we retire this particular usage of “shut up”? It’s fun!I don’t understand…had Mia never looked up her mysterious, fancy grandmother before? Did she not know her name?“I’m no princess. I’m still waiting for normal body parts to arrive!”Sweet Joe (Hector Elizondo), in his little sunglasses, becomes Mia’s chauffeur. When I first watched this movie, I imagined that this was what Billy Joel looked like. Hard to explain what, exactly, the thinking was there, but I still see it?“Hey, Joe, can you please park a block away from school? I really don’t want to cause a riot with this hearse.” “This is a non-riot hearse. And if it were a hearse, there would be silence in the back seat.” He’s so funny!Mia’s estranged father only died two months ago and Lilly is being kind of rude about it?What is this thing of Michael playing a keyboard scattered with M&Ms? Also, the name of his band is Fly Paper? No.Mia returns to the Genovian embassy for princess lessons, and Clarisse is…unsparing in her initial assessment. “Amelia, does your bad posture affect your hearing?”Oh god, Mia’s mother is going on a date with one of her teachers. No!A joke about San Francisco’s queerness that wasn’t as problematic as it could have been! I love that for this movie.I live for the little sparks that fly between Joe and Clarisse, whose husband apparently died some time ago.Unfortunately, the big makeover scene is still very funny. Paolo removing all of his rings...breaking his brush in Mia’s hair...breaking her glasses in half…I have to laugh.Also, the funny thing about this big reveal is how gaudily overdone she is? Don’t send her to that school with red lipstick on!Mia has a quick, sad little “Who is that girl I see?” moment as she appraises herself in the mirror.Lilly does not approve. “Here is your friendship charm. I’m taking if off, and it’s going in the DURT.”Also, how does Lilly have a cable show?The frenzy around Mia after Paolo speaks to the press … seems overblown? Wouldn’t San Francisco journalists have more important things to cover?Oy, Mia falling on the bleachers as she and Lilly are talking in the rain. Still difficult to watch!So many memorable moments from the big dinner scene...Mia setting somebody’s arm on fire, her trouble with the palate-cleansing sorbet…An incredible bit of trivia from IMDB: “One of the waiters in the dinner scene when Mia breaks the water glass says, ‘It happens all the time.’ The same actor played a waiter in Pretty Woman (1990), and said the same line when Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) flings the snail and the waiter catches it. Both movies were directed by Garry Marshall, as well as featured Hector Elizondo and Larry Miller.”Mia’s grand day out on the town with her grandmother involves visiting an old amusement park and eating corn dogs. Did I know what corn dogs were before this movie, and have I ever encountered one in life? These are the questions...Imagine driving a broken, old car on these terrifying hills?? Teens!I love Clarisse charming her way out of trouble after Mia’s car accident. “Goodbye, trolley people!”Why/how are the lockers outside at this school? Isn’t the weather in the Bay Area kind of fickle?Terrible Josh asks Mia to the school’s big beach party, and then Mia naively brags about it to Michael, who had invited her to see his band play that night. Sad!We don’t like Lana, obviously, but the song “Stupid Cupid” absolutely rocks.Josh asking Mia to give him a foot massage (!) when a television helicopter disrupts the party, and the two of them hide away in a shack. He is human garbage!Lana and her cronies helping the paparazzi catch Mia while she’s changing out of her bathing suit is...shockingly cruel?Mia is traumatized, unsurprisingly, and wants to give up the throne. However! The next day in P.E. class, she accidentally hits Josh in the stomach with a softball. Yay!When Mia apologizes to Michael for missing his show and invites him to the big Genovian ball coming up, he replies, “Don’t worry about me. I just consider myself royally flushed.” What...does that mean?And now, Mia exacts her revenge on Lana by smashing ice cream into her cheer uniform. A dish best served cold, etc.!Mia is actually planning to skip the ball and make an impromptu trip to Colorado “to climb some real rocks” before she discovers a letter from her father for her 16th birthday. First off, cute. Second, was she…planning to let her mother know? (And to drive all the way there in a car that very nearly killed her?)The cheese pizza for Michael with the word “SORRY” spelled out in M&Ms...an indelible image.The reporter at the Genovian ball representing Teen Scene magazine or whatever was Maggie Sheffield in The Nanny!Why were we subjected to two terrible sequels rather than having Mia and Michael stay together somehow? They couldn’t manage some long-distance thing?Mia has decided that she does want to be a princess, actually, and gets her foot-popping kiss! Joe kisses Clarisse’s hand! I’m verklempt!As the song in this movie goes, “Miracles happen once in a while, when you believe”!Genovia looks pretty? I want to go to there!