‘Godmothered’ Film Review: Jillian Bell Sows Chaos as a Fairy-in-Training

A smart and satisfying ending papers over many of the flaws in this kid comedy

Last Updated: December 4, 2020 @ 10:31 AM

In “Godmothered,” a young fairy-godmother-in-training travels to the modern human world to save her fairy-tale existence. If that plot reminds you of “Enchanted,” then that’s clearly what the folks at Disney+ had in mind, down to the casting of Isla Fisher; Fisher is a talented actress in her own right, but at least as far back as “Nocturnal Animals,” she also seems to be in on the joke that Hollywood thinks of her as The Other Amy Adams.

For the most part, “Godmothered” is a mixed-bag of clever comedy and banal kid-movie clichés, but director Sharon Maguire (“Bridget Jones’ Baby”) and writers Kari Granlund (2019’s “Lady and the Tramp”) and Melissa Stack (“The Other Woman”) craft an ending that’s so emotionally and intellectually satisfying that it’s easy to forgive the film’s less magical attributes.

It’s the story of Eleanor (Jillian Bell), the youngest and most eager in her class of fairy godmothers, taught by haughty headmistress Moira (Jane Curtin, underutilized). Eleanor is the last to learn that in a world that no longer believes in happy endings, fairy godmothers have been deemed irrelevant, and they’re all going to be reassigned as tooth fairies. Determined to preserve her career path, as well as the Motherland, she sets out to fix the life of a young girl named Mackenzie, who wrote in asking for help to get a cute boy in her class to notice her.

With a great deal of effort on both sides of the dimensional portal, Eleanor makes her way to Boston, only find that Mackenzie (Fisher) is now a middle-aged single mother who’s long past believing in happy-ever-after. The more that Eleanor tries to help Mackenzie at her job (on a last-place local news show that’s not above tabloid tactics) or with her two daughters, the more chaos this enchanted interloper creates. As Eleanor learns to expand her definitions of “happy” and “happily,” however, she may do right by her human charges, saving the day for her fellow fairy godmothers in the process.

Without giving too much away, the ending asks its characters and its audience to rethink the idea of fairy-tale endings, flying in the face of centuries of culture (including most of The Walt Disney Company’s 20th century output); “Godmothered” isn’t particularly breaking new ground in this regard, but it’s exploring these ideas with wit, reminding us that the Brothers Grimm aren’t the last word when it comes to dreams coming true.

That said, this does unfortunately turn into yet another movie in which a single parent is made to feel guilty for time away from home, as though most parents wouldn’t rather be going to their kids’ dance recitals than working overtime. This storyline turns up over and over again in movies aimed at children, and it’s always portrayed as the fault of parents with misaligned priorities and not the realities of late-stage capitalism that forces people to work long hours at multiple jobs to keep those kids fed and housed.

Bell and Fisher make a great comic duo, with the former’s ingenuousness constantly hitting the wall of the latter’s cynicism. Whether sledding down a hill in a ball gown or leading a sing-along of “My Favorite Things” (the constant references to “The Sound of Music” feel like a Disney victory lap after the studio’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox), Bell is having a ball, and Fisher makes Mackenzie’s emergence from misanthropy credible and fun to watch. Poor June Squibb, on the other hand, gets saddled with an excess of narration, and she’s been directed to deliver it at too enthusiastic a pitch.

Cinematographer Christopher Norr (“Sinister”) gives a magical glow to Boston at the holidays — “Godmothered” is a Christmas movie, but it could easily be tweaked to take place at any time of year — and the visual effects are seamless. Rachel Portman, however, seems to be phoning in a score that’s just one Disney-wonder flourish after another.

Younger viewers are more likely to find “Godmothered” enchanting, but there’s enough good cheer (and smart messaging) for willing adults as well.