Drew Barrymore in a bodice!

How many Seventeen cover models have had previous modeling experience in Playboy? My guess would be only one: Drew Barrymore. A few years ago, Barrymore appeared in the august pages of Playboy. Clad, as they say, in panties and a smile, she somehow never really appeared to be exposed at all. She was clothed in winsomeness. Drew is what you might call pro-sex, yet she maintains her unassailable position as America’s favorite girl. This summer she has appeared on the covers of Teen People and Seventeen. Her persona is that of the freewheeling daughter. Men respond to her raunchy (yet unthreatening) persona, women and girls respond to her independence. Unlike the official holder of the “America’s Sweetheart” crown, Meg Ryan, who has a steeliness behind those china blue eyes, Drew seems truly, well, sweet. But she’s got a smidge of street cred, too—there’s the boyfriend in Hole and the stripping on David Letterman. She’s managed to encompass the role of rebel and darling all at once. She’s a butterfly-lover, dammit.

Ever After: A Cinderella Story

directed by Andy Tennant

starring Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston

now playing at Aurora, Metro, Uptown, and others

It’s her appeal that drives Ever After, a joyous, entertaining retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. (The subtitle of the film, “A Cinderella Story,” seems unfortunate—can anyone hear those words without thinking of Bill Murray in Caddyshack?) This time around, Cinderella isn’t the simpering ponytailed Hausfrau she was in Disney’s Cinderella. She’s Danielle (Barrymore), a 16th-century French girl whose father dies just after he’s remarried. Poor Danielle is left alone with her wicked stepmother (Anjelica Huston) and her stepsisters, who aren’t so nice themselves. But this Cinderella doesn’t take it lying down. She’s a kind of tomboy hippie child of the Enlightenment, spouting quotations from Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and inevitably seducing the handsome Prince. It’s a role you can imagine pulled off by no one but Barrymore.

In the film’s defining scene, Prince Henry and Danielle are accosted by Gypsies. She begs them to let her go, and asks slyly, “Will you allow me to walk away with anything I can carry?” Amused by her sass, the Gypsies say yes, and of course the sturdy Danielle hoists the Prince over her shoulders and strides off into the woods. The scene perfectly encapsulates the film’s whole message—girls are smart and strong. So anachronistically independent is our Danielle that you half expect her go out for the soccer team.

Most of the other anachronisms work just fine, especially with Drew setting the tone in a casual, charming, totally modern performance. The film only gets into trouble when it tries to take on the ogre of class. In this Cinderella, the Prince must learn to love Danielle even though she is only a commoner. But the essence of the Cinderella tale is this: We know that Cinderella is a lady underneath her ashes. She is merely disguised as a commoner. This notion of the hero in disguise is key to the way a fairy tale works. Alas, though, the message of camouflaged nobility is anathema in the ’90s.