If the Shoe Fits
4 Apr 2022
Matthew O'Hara, Barbara Spevack, Alastair Lawless
Catapulting the gloomy present into a fairytale past, If the Shoes Fits looks at the stories of our childhood through a contemporary lens.
The reclamation or revisionism of long-established texts is a constantly growing project, with quicker cycles of changing consensus, particularly when it comes to films. A film can be embraced and disavowed twice over, sometimes even before getting a wide release. Revisiting those which are particularly culturally entrenched to mine meaning and relevance is a vital task, and stories which have endured for their broad narrative constructs and archetypical characters can be seen as defining artefacts rich with evergreen impressions.
For many of us, the texts which best fit this description are fairytales, introduced to us at a young age and replicated over and over again in different forms. Romantic comedies, adventure movies, coming-of-age dramas. All of these take the established conventions from fairytales and effect story from it, either conforming to tropes and signifiers, or actively subverting them.
This re-examination can help us to find echoes of the past reverberating now, and similarly show us what has been lost, for better or worse. Most often, this manifests as easy takedowns of archaic work targeted for its outdated politics as a moral exercise. To secure a confidence in our own cultural progression, we reflect on how absurdly wrong artists of the past were, as though our own work won’t inevitably be treated the same way.
If the Shoe Fits engages similarly with one of the most imitated and re-evaluated fairytales, Cinderella. Beginning in a familiarly dour present day, a wrong turn on the way home takes a man, Guy, through a transformative forest of mystical power. The twilight colours of the moody, gloomy countryside are replaced with a blue sky, vibrant greens and birdsong. The change is smooth and effects a shift in tone to a comically joyful environment.
Cinderella appears, about to go missing and lead the prince to search the land for someone whose feet match the lone shoe she left behind. Guy’s interactions with her are charming, using “cinders” an an affectionate modern nickname. Most of his comments are more critical however, picking holes in her story. From a more realist perspective, he questions why the shoe would only fit her when there is nothing physically distinct about her feet. From this, she begins to consider why the size of her feet is the only important factor in the Prince’s affections toward her. What about her personality? Her values? Her kindness?
Pointing to this superficial declaration of love does rightfully re-evaluate what factors we privilege in a person’s value, yet the very fact of the absurdity of a single physical element being used to determine true love should highlight its distinctly metaphorical position. The conversation goes round in circles on this point, its knowing meta-language becoming grating after a while with the Prince identifying how the shoe is merely a narrative contrivance. The odd class dynamic of their relationship is also interrogated, although only for the Prince to suggest that her beauty shines through the grime. The idea that she therefore has an inherent value in spite of her socio-economic background merely reinforces an antiquated structure which persists today while gesturing towards applying progressive politics to outdated ideas.
Stories endure for a reason, particularly those which are malleable enough to withstand some light prods and playful criticism. I’m not sure what conclusion If the Shoe Fits comes to about the politics it so briefly engages with. Its ‘modern’ idea of class and romance plays semantics with tradition only briefly, before losing its teeth and only reaffirming its original sentiments. There is no doubt potential fun to be had with the anachronistic present pressured to educate the past, but without any real idea of what that should look like, If the Shoe Fits ends up without any real critical thought about where the stories of yesterday should be located today.