As frothy, lightweight and insubstantial as a soap bubble, Sean Garrity’s teen comedy “After the Ball” stitches together stray elements of “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Cinderella” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” with a certain what-the-hell haphazardness that might have been endearing if it weren’t so exhausting. Starring Portia Doubleday as a fashion kingpin’s daughter who goes undercover as a male designer to thwart her evil stepmother and stepsisters, this basic-cable-quality farce is as unobjectionable as it is unmemorable, and ought to provide youngsters a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time on VOD.
Introduced at her design-school graduation, Kate Kassell (Doubleday) is the only daughter of powerful Montreal fashion magnate Lee Kassell (Chris Noth), whose eponymous company has recently fallen on hard times, knocking off popular designs rather than creating their own. Unable to land a position on her own merit thanks to her family’s bad reputation, Kate takes up her father’s offer of a job with the family business, even though the two have become estranged over the last few years.
Were “After the Ball” a more serious affair, its heroine’s essential contradictions might prove distracting. For one, even though she’s depicted as a budding design genius who grew up surrounded by haute couture, Kate shows up to work wearing dowdy overalls and can hardly change her own clothes — much less open a door, or stroll down an unobstructed walkway — without suffering some sort of pratfall. (These gags only made sense in “Prada” because the protagonist was so openly uninterested in fashion.) But more importantly, it’s hard to cast the nepotistically recruited heiress to a fashion empire as an underdog.
To solve that problem, enter Kate’s stepmother Elise (Lauren Holly), who has taken to running the Kassell company during Kate’s father’s frequent absences. Full of resentment toward our heroine for no explained reason, Elise conspires with her own daughters to drive Kate out of the company, which they eventually do by framing Kate for leaking designs to Kassell’s sniveling rival (Colin Mochrie).
As she’s licking her wounds later that night, Kate’s godmother (Mimi Kuzyk) devises a plan: Taking on the name Nate Ganymede (presumably a reference to Shakespeare rather than Greek mythology, as the subtextual implications of the latter would be horrifying), Kate will don a prosthetic nose, glasses and glued-on facial hair to rejoin the company as a man. The disguise allows Kate to reinvent herself as a dynamic, assertive young rogue — albeit one who bears an occasional nagging resemblance to Steve Urkel — and she immediately becomes her father’s star apprentice, as well as new buddies with a hunky shoe designer (Marc-Andre Grondin) who had his eye on Kate earlier.
The rest of the film goes exactly where one imagines it will, somewhat laboriously so in the later going. And considering the plot is blatantly lifted from so many obvious sources, there’s certainly some irony in its celebration of a forward-thinking visionary who shakes up a derivative company. But nothing here is remotely offensive — the script from Kate Melville and Jason Sherman gets in a few good zingers; Doubleday is perfectly likable in the lead role; and Anna Hopkins and Natalie Krill nearly steal the show as the intellectually challenged wicked stepsisters.
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