Eleanor’s quest to help someone tosses her into the real world, where Bell’s comic gifts shine. Her sharp line delivery when interacting with regular humans, like a trucker on the side of the road, is always bookended with a big smile. It totally weirds them out, and it’s often very funny. Throughout, Bell helps create some very funny fish-out-of-water jokes, jumping on any chance to show Eleanor’s earnest naïveté (a bit about handling money had me laughing out loud). Thanks to Bell’s game approach, Eleanor is a punchy mix of an earnestly ebullient musical theater student and someone gravely out of touch with reality.
But all of this proves to be a prologue for Mackenzie’s story. As a young girl from Boston, Mackenzie wrote to the fairy godmothers asking for a Happily Ever After, a request that got lost in the mix until Eleanor found it in a towering room of file cabinets. Played by Isla Fisher, she’s grown up now, and pretty straightforward in terms of what needs fixing: Mackenzie gave up hope when her husband died four years ago, and has become distant to her two daughters Mia (Willa Skye) and Jane (Jillian Shea Spaeder), who get more attention from babysitting Aunt Paula (Mary Elizabeth Ellis). It’s not going to be an easy job for Eleanor, especially as Mackenzie keeps trying to brush off the godmother’s good intentions. But the sense of family bonding makes for the movie’s sweetest scenes, with some of Eleanor’s wand waving only being partly responsible.
As if the story needed more plot, Mackenzie’s musically talented daughter Jane has an upcoming performance she’s been timid about, given past experiences of failing and embarrassment. To show what kind of parental mode she’s in, Mackenzie discourages her from taking on the challenge, fearing what might happen. It’s a gently heart-breaking moment that shows how naturally this cynicism has come to the home, a problem that Eleanor needs to address.
There’s also the drama back in The Motherland with villainous godmother figurehead Moira (Jane Curtin), who threatens to close down the kingdom for good if Eleanor fails in helping Mackenzie and her family in time. The best thing about this plotline is that it doesn’t take up too many minutes, and leads to some funny scenes where June Squibb’s narrator and godmother friend Agnes communicates with Bell. But it adds more even more issues for the story to resolve.