Ask any tween-aged girl to name her interests, and the list will almost invariably include fashion, adventure and hanging with her BFFs. Add some glorious European scenery, a case of mistaken identity, horses, a beach trip and a trio of rising starlets led by Selena Gomez, and you’ve got “Monte Carlo,” a frothy, innocuous smorgasbord of girlhood wish fulfillment that scores a direct hit with its target demo. Probably the only way for Fox to prompt greater enthusiasm among preadolescent girls would be to give each of them a cell phone with an unlimited texting plan.
With a resume spanning albums, a hit series (Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place”), heavy-rotation rentals (“Beezus and Ramona,” “Princess Protection Program”) and a social life that includes reported b.f. Justin Bieber, Gomez is the virtual embodiment of 7-to-12-year-old female fantasy. That makes the fresh-scrubbed star ideal for “Monte Carlo,” in which she finds capable support from the equally lovely Leighton Meester (“Gossip Girl”) and Katie Cassidy (“Taken”). Under the capable helming of Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”), adapting Jules Bass’ novel with co-scribes April Blair and Maria Maggenti, each girl gets her moment.
Opening reel establishes a light comic tone, stressing that Grace (Gomez) leads an ordinary life that’s about to change. She works in a diner with her pal Emma (Cassidy), preps for her high-school graduation and longs to escape the condescending glares of the school snobs. It doesn’t help that her parents (Brett Cullen, Andie MacDowell) decide to send Grace’s priggish stepsister, Meg (Meester), along on the European vacation Emma and Grace have planned for years.
Desperate to keep Emma from leaving, her b.f., Owen (“Glee” heartthrob Cory Monteith), proposes but forgets the ring. Emma turns him down and he breaks up with her, but at least she still has Paris ahead of her. The Paris they discover, however, isn’t the one they dreamed about: When their militaristic tour guide (Valerie Lemercier) speed-walks them through the Louvre and has them repeatedly circle the Arc de Triomphe (much funnier in “Vacation”), the girls begin to suspect they’re missing something. Only the view from Sacre-Coeur and chance encounters with a hunky Aussie named Riley (Luke Bracey) offer hints of another side of France.
Then, in a Comedy Writing 101 scheme that apparently still feels fresh to the pic’s demo, Grace decides to pose as the visiting British heiress Cordelia Winthrop-Scott (also Gomez), who has ditched Paris without informing her staff. Over Meg’s objections (and those of anyone desiring a reality check), the girls are promptly whisked away on a private jet to Monte Carlo, where Cordelia is to be the guest of honor at the auction of a priceless necklace. The ruse leads to further complications involving Theo (Pierre Boulanger), a kind-hearted young man who falls for Cordelia/Grace, and Cordelia’s aunt Alicia (Catherine Tate), who begins to suspect she’s an impostor.
Inescapable shades of “Roman Holiday” appear as Riley and Meg speed away on a scooter, while Meester’s cinched-waist dress (designed by Shay Cunliffe) directly recalls that of the young Audrey Hepburn. Older audience members will appreciate another nod to Hollywood (and real-life) royalty when a TV happens to air a French-dubbed version of “To Catch a Thief.”
If it sounds like a lot to juggle, it is, but for the most part, Bezucha handles the multiple storylines successfully, bringing the threads together for a big reveal in which Grace must confront her actions. Still, something has to give, and pic gives short shrift to a thread in which Owen turns up in search of Emma, forcing him to wander Paris for what seems like an eternity.
Pacing is generally solid, abetted throughout by Michael Giacchino’s lively score. The only real lapses are the romantic scenes, which feel almost lethargic in contrast with the brisk energy pulsating thoughout the pic; Gomez, Meester and Cassidy have so much chemistry together, it’s difficult to sustain the same giddy momentum with their respective romantic partners.
Although some of the Gallic elements — brusque locals, snippy waiters, inscrutable menus — are exaggerated for comic effect, there are others the movie gets just right. Production designer Hugo Lucyzc-Wyhowski perfectly captures the incongruities of Parisian accommodations with the girls’ hotel, which advertises their tiny room as the “junior ambassador suite.”
Lensing by Jonathan Brown effectively conveys the warm light of summer on the Riviera; though some scenes were filmed in Paris and Monaco, Budapest doubles for Monte Carlo. Music supervisor Liza Richardson has assembled an upbeat soundtrack designed for maximum downloading, capped off with a final track by — who else? — Selena Gomez.