The book and movie in question are Ballet Shoes, the Noel Streatfeild children's classic. I got it from the library to watch during a workout, on the theory that if it was too painful, at least it would be too painful for free, and in any case it couldn't be worse than Five Children and It's movie adaptation.
It was not nearly that bad. (That really plumbed the depths, though, holy crud.) And really you have to love a movie where the happy ending involves sending a child to Prague in the early thirties. Then I went back to the book and found that while it wasn't Prague, the happy ending of the book involved sending a child to Czechoslovakia when the book came out in 1937. Oh, hindsight, how appalling you can be sometimes.
But anyway: the book had more room to be introspective than the movie, and that mattered a lot in how much I liked it. It also had more room to be domestic, and that mattered to me, too. My favorite characters from the book were Petrova of course, and she was my favorite in the movie, too, and also Dr. Smith and Dr. Jakes and Winifred. The doctors were done well but barely present. Winifred...is the subject of one of my main gripes with the movie Ballet Shoes.
In the book, Winifred is plain--homely, even--but bright, talented, hard-working, and explicitly a very nice girl. She is friends with Pauline. And she is dreadfully poor and needs the money that comes from working in the theater (this is set in the Great Depression in both book and movie versions). In the book, when Winifred notices that it is desperately unfair that Pauline will generally get cast before Winifred because of Pauline's looks, Streatfeild does not pull that punch. It is unfair, she lets her readers know--child readers as well as adult. This is not a fair world she is portraying. Winifred adjusts her expectations to the world she's actually dealing with and pursues a career in teaching, in which she appears to be independent, fulfilled, and happy. But nobody ever suggests that Winifred should say, "Well, gee, it's just peachy-keen that I completely nailed my audition and you bobbled yours but you got the part because you're pretty." In Streatfeild's world, nobody wants or needs her to say that.
In the movie this cannot be abided. In the land of movies, when Winifred snaps that Pauline will always look "right" for the part, the same line is put in a context that shows Winifred to be jealous and pretentious. Because the land of movies cannot face up even for two seconds, even in a movie about performance arts, to its own foibles this way. Emma Watson was cast as Pauline, and she was well cast. She is better known as Hermione Granger. Think about that for a moment: Pauline Fossil, those of you who know Streatfeild's books will recall, is the epitome of a certain type of blonde, pink-and-white prettiness. I went and checked our copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to be sure, and Hermione Granger is first described as bushy-haired and buck-toothed. She eventually cleans up nice, but no one who ever looks at Emma Watson is the least bit surprised that she cleans up nice. She is not a striking girl, not a girl who will eventually surprise us all, not a girl who will grow into herself someday (but probably not tomorrow). She is simply a pretty girl. And I don't believe for a moment that they thought of casting any other type as Hermione, no matter how the character was written. And they can't even admit to themselves that it is a thing that they do. They can't admit that it might be legitimately, reasonably frustrating to a reasonable, pleasant person, or that there is any alternative they might consider.
I don't say this out of some sense of myself as an ugly duckling: while I went through a tolerably awkward stage as most of us do, I have been pretty squarely in the swan category for some time now, which is to say I am pale and bad-tempered and will take out your eye as soon as look at you. But no: I like Petrova because she can do math and mechanical things (and wants to!), not because she's "the plain one" and I think I'm "the plain one." I know I'm not. But the point is, it's all right to be the plain one and a talented, interesting, nice person. The world can have plain ones. The world needn't be divided into beauties, officially designated exotic beauties, and She's Just Jealous. And we needn't pretend that everything is nice and fair in regards to that when really, no, not so much.
I was also absolutely appalled at how fast they showed the girls in toe shoes. It may be that they were not indicating the passage of time very well--they really weren't, the girls' clothing and hairstyles were not used to any effect to make them look any younger or older at a time when they should have looked much younger or older with a few years--but the end result is that it looks like you can just turn up for a ballet class and go en pointe. And no. And that's harmful to actual real-life girls, who don't know better and whose parents don't know better and who damage their feet and legs because disreputable teachers are willing to put them en pointe too early to keep them as students. Bad bad bad.
But! I was heartened by the fact that they didn't make Posy any less of a jerk. If anything, more of one: they didn't have enough time for her dances making fun of people to be affectionate, so there was just the one being a snot about Winifred. And we didn't actually see her breathing, eating, and sleeping dance, just talking about it. They don't really try to justify that she is being a jerk about Mme. Fidolia towards the end of the movie. They don't give her bullshit rationalizations. And that's good. I think one of the things on which Streatfeild doesn't pull punches is how hard it is to be the crazy prima prodigy level in some fields and still a nice, decent human being. And I was afraid the movie would go into But Her Art, Her Great Great Art, and it didn't really.
Gratuitous romantic subplot for Sylvia: eh, whatever, it's a movie, I expect it. Having the guy who played Danny in Hustle in that role was weird, and it was a stilted, obvious sort of subplot. But it was no worse than it absolutely had to be. Well, maybe a little worse. Not much, though. Better, at least, than having gratuitous romantic subplot for Pauline or Petrova, which would have made me hurl, possibly something across the room or possibly just hurl.
Do you see that this is not Darby O'Gill? Yes. So do I. I lost my nerve. Tomorrow. Really.