When at it’s best, The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner, is an outstanding achievement of parody filmmaking, giving the world a hilarious telling of the story by William Goldman (who also wrote the screenplay), that is full of wit and nostalgic lines that will be told for centuries to come. However, it falls short at becoming the perfect parody movie due to an overly simple story that, in some regards, can ruin the experience. In the long run, The Princess Bride becomes the Hot Pocket of parody movies, for better or worse.
The film tells the story through the narration of a grandfather (Peter Falk), reading a story to his grandson, played to my internal hilarity by Fred Savage. The story then divulges into a romanticized story about a farm boy turned bandit named Westley (Cary Elwes), trying to save his one true love Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright). On the way, Westley meets various characters of all shapes and sizes such as the Spaniard, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), the evil yet soft giant called Fezzik (Andre The Giant), self-proclaimed genius, Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), and a surprising cameo by Billy Crystal, who plays a hilarious, yiddish stereotype called the Miracle Maker.
This story, although very simple, doesn’t work to the film’s strengths. Several scenes are either very fast paced or constantly drag due to the simple story. That wouldn’t be an issue if the ending wasn’t predictable. The parody movie, of which this movie definitely is, is making fun of the generic Disney fairytale and should subvert the viewer by throwing a curveball once in a while. A little unpredictability or a character not getting exactly what he wants would have possibly left more of an impact. Instead, The Princess Bride thinks the best parody subversion is how the event happens, not the outcome. The creative team has confused parody for suspense. In the final act of the film, Westley is completely handicapped, but the story does nothing with it. Instead it continues to tell the predictable story, just with cheesy and quite bland handicap humor. The final act could have done something different and created a different outcome, this would subvert and make the relatively cheesy handicapped idea work. The story should complement the writing and acting, and not just turn into a version of the Family Guy Star Wars episodes.
For the most part, the writing helps to alleviate the problems with the pacing and storytelling. Jokes and gags are immensely memorable. My personal favorite moment goes to the only scene with Billy Crystal’s Miracle Maker. The character’s wit and sharpness of hard facts makes every second of his cameo a miracle to see. However the contrasting dialogue, acting, and plot are what make the film very slow paced. The dialogue is written like a Monty Python film where the comedy makes the viewer think, and the acting is fast paced, thus the scenes should constantly flow with each other, while the story is shaped like the thing they were trying to make fun of in the first place, a Disney fairytale. Again, back to the comparison that this movie feels like a very poor television show spoofing a movie. This type of story makes the film slow paced, having to stop for every joke to be made. I have two personal theories as to why this is. The most likely idea is that it stems from the narration the film introduces, especially the intrusions by the grandfather. I associate narration with a slow paced, emotional story. If the idea was to make fun of that idea in Disney films then good for them, but it makes the story feel boring and makes the viewer anxious for the next scene. The other theory was the dreaded ‘book to film’ syndrome, the classic case of something that probably works better in writing than on film, because novels are generally slower paced than films.
However, all of these issues are really okay in the long run because from start to finish, most of the humor never fell flat. I constantly found myself laughing at the incredible humor in the film. Although I critiqued that the story structure clashed with the Monty Python-esk dialogue, that dialogue on its own is of the best quality, even accentuated by some stellar acting. I would like to make mention again Billy Crystal in his performance as the Miracle Maker. The exaggerated yiddish actions and accent made me reminisce about my school’s production of Little Shop Of Horrors and Mr. Mushnik, of which accentuated the joke for me. Generally, most of the humor for me was nostalgia based, which isn’t a bad thing overall. However, that comes from a pretense of having watched this movie millions of times before this screening.Although overwhelmed with a simplistic story and pacing issues, the writing stands out as a great testament to the beginning trend of the popularity of parody films, making it a solid groundwork for future parody movies to be made. One must however, like a Hot Pocket, deal with the possibility of cold center, caused by bad pacing and storytelling. However I still eat the Hot Pocket, because I can’t get enough of the taste.