Review: ‘The King’s Daughter,’ starring Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Julie Andrews, Fan Bingbing and William Hurt

January 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter”

Directed by Sean McNamara

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1684 in Versailles, France, the fantasy drama film “The King’s Daughter” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: King Louis XIV wants to get immortality by taking the life force from a magical mermaid, but the king’s rebellious daughter Marie-Josèphe does everything she can to prevent this mermaid’s death.

Culture Audience: “The King’s Daughter” will appeal primarily to people who like watching tacky and poorly made fairy-tale movies.

Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter” is a laughably bad movie that seems like a parody, but with no self-awareness about how truly awful it is. It’s a fantasy drama filled with hokey dialogue, cheesy visual effects, and high-society women in 1680s France who dress like 1980s prom queens. Some of the scenery and production design are nice to look at (parts of the movie were filmed at the Palace of Versailles), but everything else is so bottom-of-the-barrel predictable and corny, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved in making this horrendous flop.

Directed by Sean McNamara, “The King’s Daughter” is adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun,” which was a combination of science fiction and historical romance. Barry Berman and James Schamus adapted the novel for “The King’s Daughter” screenplay, by hacking up “The Moon and the Sun” and turning it into a screenplay equivalent of a cheap and vapid romance novel. “The King’s Daughter” takes place in 1684 in Versailles, France, but the movie looks like the filmmakers just wanted to stick the movie in a palace setting, hire some well-known actors, and then hope the audience doesn’t notice how phony everything looks. “The King’s Daughter,” which was originally titled “The Moon and the Sun,” was filmed in 2014, and went through several studio ownerships before being released in 2022. It’s easy to see why multiple movie studios didn’t want to release this movie for all of these years.

The makeup and costume design in “The King’s Daughter” can best be described as careless, with too many modern details that make the movie look confused about the century in which this story is supposed to take place. Things aren’t much better with how “The King’s Daughter” has wildly uneven acting that ranges from campy to bored. Maybe it’s because the dialogue that the cast members have to work with is so cringeworthy. Somehow, the filmmakers convinced Oscar-winning actress Julie Andrews to do some voiceover narration for “The King’s Daughter.” Someone should’ve told Andrews that this atrocious movie makes “The Princess Diaries” look like an Oscar-worthy masterpiece in comparison.

“The King’s Daughter” has a muddled story about King Louis XIV (played by Pierce Brosnan, hamming it up in a long-haired wig) wanting to live forever, because he’s so egotistical that he thinks France will go downhill if he dies. “My immortality secures the future of France!” King Louis XIV pompously declares. King Louis XIV, who is also called the Sun King, feels more urgency to find the secret to immortality after he survives a botched assassination attempt upon his victorious return from a war. This assassination scene is sloppily acted: The king gets shot on the side of his abdomen, but then he’s able to get up, as if he just has a slight bruise.

The king’s personal physician Dr. Labarth (played by Pablo Schreiber) tells him that in the underwater Lost City of Atlantis, there’s a fabled female sea creature that could hold the secret to immortality. In order for the immortality magic to work, the creature’s life force can only be taken when the sun meets the moon—in other words, a solar eclipse. The king’s other close advisor is a priest named Père La Chaise (played by a William Hurt), who thinks it’s a bad idea to try to mess with nature and matters of life and death. The priest’s warning doesn’t stop the king from ordering a ship of naval subordinates to find this sea creature in Atlantis.

Captain Yves De La Croix (played by Benjamin Walker) is the ship’s leader. It doesn’t take long for Yves and his men to find two mysterious sea creatures and capture them. The creatures are a mermaid (played by Fan Bingbing, also known as Binging Fan) and a merman, who are a couple with an infant child. The merman is let go, but the mermaid (who’s never given a name) is brought back to an underground grotto area at the king’s palace. Later, it’s shown that the mermaid quickly gave the infant to another mermaid for safekeeping when she saw her male partner being captured and she knew she would be next.

Meanwhile, the beginning of “The King’s Daughter” shows a feisty young woman named Marie-Josèphe (played by Kaya Scodelario), who has grown up in a convent by the sea, being scolded by some nuns for Marie-Josèphe’s penchant of wanting to swim in the sea. Rachel Griffiths has a cameo as the convent’s head abbess. Marie-Josèphe’s unnamed mother (played by Tiffany Hofstetter, in a flashback) died when she was a baby. Marie-Josèphe’s father is King Louis XIV, who knows about Marie-Josèphe, but he never claimed her because she’s an illegitimate child.

Marie-Josèphe has grown up not knowing who her father is, but she’s about to find out. Faster than you can say “stupid fairy-tale movie,” Marie-Josèphe is summoned to the palace by the king, who has no other children and is thinking about his legacy in case he can’t live forever. Eventually, Marie-Josèphe finds out that the king is her father, but he orders her not to tell anyone that he’s her father. The movie tries in overly contrived ways to make Marie-Josephe look like a “relatable princess.” For example, Marie-Josephe clumsily falls in a fountain outside of the palace the first time that she meets the king.

The big conflict in the story comes when Marie-Josèphe finds out about the captured mermaid and wants to free the mermaid from captivity, against the king’s wishes. “The King’s Daughter” awkwardly wastes a lot of time getting to this big conflict. After Marie-Josèphe discovers the captured mermaid in the grotto and starts to befriend her, Marie-Josèphe suddenly gets the urge to play the cello. The music that Marie-Josephe plays is the music she can hear the mermaid communicate. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

When she’s not playing in a string orchestra on the palace lawn, as if she’s some kind of wedding performer, Marie-Josèphe is secretly visiting the mermaid. The strange moaning and shrieks that come out of the mermaid’s mouth can only be described as sounding like a mutation of a whale and a dolphin. The mediocre visual effects for the mermaid are often obscured by the water. The mermaid also glows in the dark.

Marie-Josèphe also hangs out with her lady-in-waiting Magali (played by Crystal Clarke), who is kind of an airhead. This is what Magali says to Marie-Josèphe when Magali finds out that she and Marie-Josèphe both grew up without their biological parents: “Trauma at the start of life often inspires greatness.” The casting of Magali is racially problematic because she is the only black person with a speaking role in the movie—and she’s a servant character who’s essentially a “mammy” stereotype seen in outdated and racist movies.

The movie’s grossly inaccurate fashions are random and very distracting. The society women and men of the king’s court sneer at Marie-Josèphe when she first arrives at the palace, because she’s dressed like a peasant. But some of the women are styled to look like Goths who got rejected from a Siouxie and the Banshees music video from the 1980s.

The fashion mistakes don’t stop there. Marie-Josèphe starts to dress more like a princess, but her gowns are the types of dresses that high school girls in 1980s teen romantic comedies would wear in scenes for proms or homecoming dances. Magali sometimes wears a plastic headband that looks like it was bought at a corner drugstore, not something that belongs to a lady-in-waiting in 1680s France. Yves sometimes wears a modern-styled leather jacket, as if he’s about to go on a motorcycle ride in a century when motorcycles weren’t even invented.

Every princess movie has a love story. In “The King’s Daughter,” Yves and Marie-Josèphe make goo-goo eyes at each other almost as soon as they meet, when he catches her hanging out in the grotto with the mermaid. Their courtship plays out exactly like you expect it would. Scodelario and Walker have some on-screen chemistry together (probably because they became a real-life couple because of this movie and got married in real life), but the romance in the movie is very dull.

Predictably, Yves is under orders from the king to keep the mermaid in captivity. Marie-Josèphe wants to set the mermaid free. As Yves and Marie-Josèphe fall in love, his loyalty is torn between King Louis XIV and Marie-Josèphe. You know how this is is going to end, so there’s no suspense.

Marie-Josèphe gets a serious injury on her right arm after falling off of a horse. Dr. Labarth recommends that her arm be amputated. But lo and behold, Marie-Josèphe goes down to the grotto to visit the mermaid, who heals Marie-Josèphe’s arm completely. It makes the king even more determined to steal the mermaid’s powers during the upcoming solar eclipse.

And because this movie is filled with clichés, there’s a love triangle. A haughty rich guy named Jean-Michel Lintillac (played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes) is making King Louis XIV feel guilty because Jean-Michel’s military father was killed in the war, and Jean-Michel blames the king. To get this complainer off of his back, the king offers Jean-Michel the title of duke. Later, the king arranges for Marie-Josèphe to marry Jean-Michel because the king doesn’t want Marie-Josèphe to be romantically involved with a commoner like Yves, who has some kind of past feud with Jean-Michel.

As the feisty and plucky Marie-Josèphe, Scodelario seems to give a sincere effort to embody her character, but her scenes with Brosnan are undercut by his campy over-the-top acting. Jean-Michel and Dr. Labarthe are just cardboard-like villains, although “Sons of Anarchy” alum Schreiber as Dr. Labarthe should be given some credit for playing a character outside of his usual “working-class tough guy” persona. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning actor Hurt (as Père La Chaise) looks embarrassed to be in this movie. Viewers who watch this train-wreck film might be embarrassed too at wasting their time with this junk.

Gravitas Ventures released “The King’s Daughter” in U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Mighty Oak,’ starring Janel Parrish, Tommy Ragen, Carlos PenaVega, Alexa PenaVega, Levi Dylan and Raven-Symoné

July 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Janel Parrish, Carlos PenaVega, Ben Milliken, Tommy Ragen and Nana Ghana in “Mighty Oak” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment)

“Mighty Oak” 

Directed by Sean McNamara

Culture Representation: Taking place in the San Diego and briefly in Los Angeles and Minnesota, the drama “Mighty Oak” has a racially diverse cast (white, black, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A manager of an up-and-coming rock band is convinced that a guitar whiz kid is the reincarnation of her dead musician brother, who used to be in the band, but everyone around her is skeptical of that belief.

Culture Audience: “Mighty Oak” will appeal primarily to people who like sappy dramas and have low expectations for realistic storytelling.

Nana Ghana, Levi Dylan and Carlos PenaVega in “Mighty Oak” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment)

The music-oriented drama “Mighty Oak” takes some heavy issues, such as drug addiction and mental illness, and throws them into an overly saccharine story that’s supposed to be uplifting but ends up being pandering and grossly unrealistic. Directed by Sean McNamara and written by Matt R. Allen, “Mighty Oak” might be enjoyable to children who are too young to know how dumb the plot twist is toward the end of the movie. But for adults who know better, this movie is downright cringeworthy in how it uses tragic deaths to further its manipulative agenda of trying to make audiences adore the kid who’s the movie’s title character.

In the beginning of “Mighty Oak,” band manager/agent Gina Jackson (played by Janel Parrish) is frantically knocking on the door of a nightclub dressing room occupied by her brother Vaughn (played by Levi Dylan), right before Vaughn’s pop-rock band Army of Love is supposed to take the stage. Vaughn is the group’s lead singer, lead guitarist and chief songwriter. He’s portrayed as one of those “undiscovered genius” types who fills up notebooks with his ideas and goes on writing binges whenever inspiration hits him.

And apparently, Vaughn has decided to write a song in the dressing room, making his bandmates and Gina wait for him to be ready to go on stage. Gina listens to the song and reacts as if she thinks it should be a No. 1 hit, even though it’s really a generic and forgettable song written for generic and forgettable movies like this one. The actor who plays Vaughn is the real-life grandson of Bob Dylan and son of The Wallflowers leader Jakob Dylan. In “Mighty Oak,” the filmmakers have stuck Levi Dylan in an ill-fitting obvious wig and have made him perform hack tunes that his legendary grandfather Bob wouldn’t be caught dead performing.

The other members of Army of Love are rhythm guitarist Pedro (played by Carlos PenaVega), Gina’s ex-boyfriend who’s still in love with her; bass player Alex (played by Nana Ghana), a sarcastic cynic who spends about half of her screen time rolling her eyes in annoyance; and drummer Darby (played by Ben Milliken), a goofy Brit who won’t be winning any intelligence awards anytime soon.

Gina and Vaughn are closer than most siblings are because they’ve been through a lot together. Vaughn and Gina became orphans when they were children, and they had traumatic experiences in the foster-care system. Pedro is very jealous and insecure about all the attention that Gina pays to Vaughn. But Gina’s fixation on Vaughn in the beginning of the story is nothing compared to the creepy obsession for her brother that she shows later in the story.

Army of Love has built up a following in the San Diego music scene (the group is based in the San Diego neighborhood of Ocean Beach) and has released a few independent albums, but the group hasn’t hit the big time. One day, Gina tells the band some exciting news: Army of Love has been selected as the opening act for Arcade Fire’s upcoming three concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

However, their excitement is short-lived when tragedy strikes: While driving on a freeway on the way back from one of the Arcade Fire concerts, the van carrying the band and Gina (and driven by Darby) gets hit in a head-on collision from a car driving the wrong way. Vaughn is killed instantly in the car wreck, while the other people in the van survive.

The movie then fast-forwards 10 years later. Gina is a drunk and a gambling addict who’s having a hard time paying her bills. Pedro works as a waiter at a local coffee shop/diner called Lestat’s, and he gives private guitar lessons as a way to make extra money. Alex works as a waitress at another local eatery—and she really hates her job, based on the miserable attitude and annoyed eye rolls she gives to a difficult teenager (played by Emma Ragen) who’s a regular customer. Darby works at a music store where he pathetically tries to get people to buy old Army of Love albums.

Lestat’s owner Dwayne “DB” Biggs (played by Rodney Hicks) owns the building where the coffee shop is located. The building’s top floor has apartments for rent. One of the apartments has recently been rented to a widow named Valerie Scoggins (played by Alexa PenaVega, who is Carlos PenaVega’s wife in real life) and her 10-year-old son Oak Scoggins (played by Tommy Ragen, in his feature-film debut).

Valerie, who has burn scars on her face and other parts of her body, is a military veteran who’s become an opioid addict. Therefore, she spends most of her days and nights in bed and zonked out in a drug-induced haze while surrounded by pill bottles and hypodermic needles. Oak has learned to become self-sufficient, and he’s essentially his mother’s nurse maid, since he serves her meals in bed and he seems to be the one responsible for cleaning their home.

At school, Oak has one close friend—Emma Biggs (played by Gianna Harris)—who is DB’s daughter. Emma is a loyal and protective pal to Oak. For example, when a couple of bullies at school tease Oak and steal his journal while they’re in the schoolyard, Emma defends Oak and gets the bullies to back off of him.

One day, DB mentions to Pedro that he let Oak borrow Vaughn’s best-loved guitar because the kid showed an interest in playing it. Pedro is a little annoyed that DB gave this guitar to Oak instead of to Pedro, but he’s curious to see if Oak (whom he hasn’t met yet) has any talent. Meanwhile, Pedro calls Gina to tell her that Vaughn’s beloved guitar is now in the temporary possession of a kid they’ve never met.

Gina is very upset by the news, not just because the guitar has sentimental value to her but also because the guitar is worth $3,000, and she was going to sell it to pay off some of her debts. Here’s a plot hole that’s never really explained in the film: What the hell was DB doing with Vaughn’s guitar? As Vaughn’s only living heir, shouldn’t Gina have been the one to own the guitar after he died? It’s shown later in the movie that Gina kept all of Vaughn’s possessions like a hoarder, so why didn’t she have that guitar?

At any rate, Gina wants to get the guitar, so she and Pedro make plans to meet up and try to figure out how to retrieve the guitar without hurting Oak’s feelings. Gina hasn’t seen the surviving members of Army of Love in several years, so Pedro is kind of thrilled to see Gina again. However, to Pedro’s disappointment, Gina makes it clear that she has no interest in dating him again.

When Pedro and Gina inevitably see Oak play Vaughn’s guitar, they are awed by the kid’s natural talent. (Tommy Ragen does his own guitar playing and singing in the movie.) Pedro offers to teach Oak some guitar lessons (with Army of Love songs as part of the repertoire, of course), while Gina notices that Oak’s guitar playing and other mannerisms are strikingly similar to what her dead brother Vaughn used to have.

Gina is even more convinced that Oak is the reincarnation of her brother when she sees Oak’s journal and finds illustrations that are exactly like what Vaughn used to have in his own journal. Even though Gina is spooked by these similarities, she sees an opportunity to get Army of Love back together and try to resurrect the band’s career.

Pedro is the first person she tells about her belief that Oak is the reincarnation of Vaughn. He’s very skeptical because of Gina’s troubled past: She’s a recovering drug addict, and she spent time in a psychiatric facility after Vaughn’s death. Gina has also attempted suicide at least once.

But he goes along with Gina’s plan to reunite Army of Love, with Oak as the band’s new lead singer/songwriter. When Alex and Darby find out that a 10-year-old is the new band leader, they’re less-than-thrilled until they hear Oak sing and play. However, everyone except for Gina thinks it’s kind of crazy to think that Oak is the reincarnation of Vaughn.

After Oak does a few rehearsals with the band, Gina and Pedro meet with Oak’s mother Valerie to ask her permission to let him be in Army of Love. Even in her drug-addled state of mind, she’s protective of Oak and doesn’t want him to be exploited. But since she’s a drug addict who’s always looking for more money, Valerie also wants to know how much Oak will be paid for his work.

Gina and Pedro admit that Army of Love isn’t making any money at the moment, but when they do start to make money, Oak will get his fair share. Valerie negotiates for Oak to get paid the same amount as Pedro. And then they all give handshakes over it, without any written contracts or even talk of consulting with attorneys first.

As dumb as this business “deal” is, it’s actually not too far off from how a lot of naïve people get ripped off in showbiz. What’s actually really stupid about the movie is what happens in the last third of the story. In order to believe the ludicrous plot twist (which won’t be revealed in this review), you’d have to believe that Gina, who’s so obsessed with Vaughn and how he died, didn’t care to find out anything else about the car accident that killed her brother.

The original music in “Mighty Oak” (many of the songs were co-written by Tommy Ragen) is middling and trite. Despite the filmmakers’ efforts to make Army of Love look like a “cool” band, it just comes across as a Nickelodeon or Disney Channel version of a band: A bunch of Hollywood actors with a newcomer kid actor trying to look like they’re in a believable rock band. Putting a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt on the kid doesn’t make the band any more authentic-looking.

And speaking of Disney Channel, former “That’s So Raven” star Raven-Symoné has a small supporting role as Taylor Lazlo, a friend of Gina’s who is a music critic at the San Diego Reader. Taylor’s San Diego Reader review of an Army of Love show with Oak as the lead singer will make AC/DC fans throw up a little in their mouths: She compares Oak fronting the band as better than how Brian Johnson replaced the late Bon Scott as the singer of AC/DC. Yes, the screenplay for this movie really is that bad.

Despite some of these real-life rock references in “Mighty Oak,” the movie is not realistic in many ways. The movie foolishly never mentions how Oak’s age is a real hindrance to the band. In real life, adults in a rock band wouldn’t want the credibility problems and liability issues of having a 10-year-old front the band. Getting band insurance would be a major hassle, for starters.

And a boy whose voice hasn’t even reached puberty cannot be believable when singing songs about romantic love. Therefore, a band with a very underage kid as a lead singer has to avoid doing any songs that are “adult” in nature, which makes Army of Love a novelty kiddie group with no rock’n’roll credibility.

The kid also wouldn’t be able to go into places where the minimum age requirement is 18 or 21, thereby greatly reducing the number of gigs that the band can get, since Army of Love is still at the level of performing in nightclubs. And unless the kid drops out of school, there’s no way that a child could be able to fulfill the time commitment it takes to be a professional musician who tours and records music.

Here’s an example of how out-of-touch the “Mighty Oak” filmmakers are with youth culture: In one scene, before the members of Army of Love go on stage, Gina chants the band’s acronym as a rallying cry: “AOL! AOL!” What? Not only could this acronym be confused with the AOL Internet service, but apparently the filmmakers aren’t aware that AOL hasn’t been cool since the 1990s.

“Mighty Oak” isn’t completely terrible. Some of the actors are better than others. The scenes between Gina and Pedro are the standouts because Parrish and Carlos PenaVega make these scenes believable. And there’s a somewhat funny recurring joke with one of Pedro’s untalented guitar students named Tristan (played by Thomas Kasp), who keeps popping up in his desperation to become a rock star too.

As for Tommy Ragen, it’s obvious that “Mighty Oak” is his first movie, and there’s a lot of room for improvement in his acting. In some scenes, he’s too melodramatic, while in other scenes, he’s too wooden. It’s clear that he needed better direction to overcome some of this uneven acting.

Several times in the movie, Oak does this gesture of placing his hand over his heart when he’s having a very emotional moment. It’s the filmmakers’ blatant attempt to make these moments into tearjerker scenes, and it just comes across as too slick and calculating for its own good.

“Mighty Oak” would have been a much more interesting movie if it hadn’t gone down such a predictable and boring path by the end of the film. If you want to see a great movie about an underage child prodigy from the San Diego area who experiences the lifestyle of a rock band, then watch “Almost Famous” instead.

Paramount Home Entertainment released “Mighty Oak” on digital on July 7, 2020.

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