The Princess Bride Review

The Princess Bride film still


As you wish… This 1987 family classic shows just how you make a bold meta-fantasy hybrid.

A lot of people think Rob Reiner's beloved 1987 film The Princess Bride is a revisionist fairy tale. Certainly, it remains head and shoulders above most contemporary adjuncts of this oft-plundered sub genre. But this is a film about memory and nostalgia, and more importantly how alcohol and drugs play their part in subverting – and in some situations, enhancing – our abilities to invent stories. It's about new ways of singing the same old song.

Peter Falk plays a soused pensioner in a dirty mack who, in some horrendous bureaucratic mix-up, is ushered in to attend a bedside vigil for the egregious oik out of The Wonder Years who's come down with dropsy, or something. Militantly unreconstructed in his child-rearing methods, Falk decides to read the kid a bedtime story in order to get him to shut the hell up. But he's been on the meths that morning, and so he is unable to actually focus on the words on the page.

In order to evade this most awkward of scrapes, he decides that the best thing to do would be to make the whole thing up, allowing the thick vapours of industrially processed hooch to do much of his creative heavy lifting. And so, he conflates some tall, hazily-remembered tale involving dashing princes, damsels in distress, Jewish comics in liberally-applied prosthetics,  "My" from My Dinner With Andre and a surprisingly genial WWF wrestler.

The yarn is epic and unlikely, drawing on a love that spans the totality of life and death and an adventure which culminates in nothing less than the wholesale toppling of the local monarchy. As a sideline, an overconfident swashbuckler with a grudge (based on a guy that Falk met in a Hoboken dive bar) dedicates his life to tracking down and administering retribution to the man who killed his papa.

Somehow, it all comes together beautifully. It shouldn't, but it does. The boy mistakes desperate invention with acerbic irony and is cured of his ills via the power of storytelling. Booze can often bring out the worst in us, such as occasions where we might mistake a banana for a telephone, a fridge for a casino or believe that domestic break-ins can be perpetrated under the banner of "just a but of harmless fun". But it also gives birth to visionary depth and untapped potentials.

This booze infiltrates the narrator's sense of decency also. He forgets that he's in the company of a minor. He gives his characters bawdy names, unsuitable for young ears (cf Prince Humperdink). But it's okay, because it's better that young people learn about these things in exciting and idiosyncratic ways. One can't help but speculate as to writer William Goldman's blood alcohol level at the time of writing The Princess Bride. Is he the narrator? Is this a personal document of his own experiences reading stories to children while half cut?

But as the in-house lawyers are now literally prizing the keyboard from underneath your humble reviewer's fingers, let us assure you that we still love this movie, both despite and because of its subversive evolution. Its lesson is that a little drink expands the mind, it can help us to create and articulate. It helps us to forge ideas in the mind to give psychological birth to new forms. We can give a new spin to some tawdry old material and make it into something exciting and that stands on its own grotesquely hooven feet. These things are possible. Thank you William Goldman. And thank you... booze.

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