What A Girl Wants (2003) Warner Brothers
1 hr. 44 mins.
Starring: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Jonathan Pryce, Anna Chancellor, Christina Cole, Oliver James
Directed by: Dennie Gordon

What a Girl Wants



Photo: Warner Brothers

Not only is director Dennie Gordon’s generic and syrupy teen comedy What A Girl Wants a manipulative attempt to corral the targeted adolescent females into plopping themselves at the box office seats, this predictably cornball story is guilty of bad timing as well. Previously, Disney’s trite but fairly successful hit The Princess Diaries beat Gordon’s lukewarm fairy tale to the punch by originally catering to the impressionable young gals in movieland. In theory, What A Girl Wants begs to be a charming coming-of-age examination of a young girl’s quest to find her identity by completely investigating her past in an attempt to be comfortable with her curious present-day existence.

Gordon (Joe Dirt) is certainly noble in the half-hearted attempt of trying to instill some element of feminine growing pains and a savvy sense of empowerment within this golly-gee free-spirited fable. But this cutesy contemporary look at a teenager searching and tackling her self-discovery issues may feel kind of hokey and not too hip for a majority of today’s sophisticated and self-assured young gals who probably wouldn’t easily swallow this contrived marshmallow-of-a-movie. And for the insecure young ladies out there that will try desperately to relate to the flimsy and artificial leanings of this superficial whimsical adventure, might I suggest you spend your constructive time by enrolling in a classroom course of Grrrrrl Power 101 instead?

In the continued pursuit of turning spunky Nickelodeon television “It” girl Amanda Bynes (All That) into a dependable box office Barbie doll, the young actress plays carefree New York-based Daphne Reynolds, a 17-year old whose inquisitive nature about her eccentric parents persist. Since Daphne has always heard stories about her folks and how their unique union came about, she constantly pokes around her curiosity until it finally gets the best of her. She needs to know more about her beginnings that obviously start with that of the unorthodox connection of her unconventional parents.

Currently, Daphne resides with her single dippy hippie musician mother (Kelly Preston) in the city’s section of Chinatown. We’re informed that Daphne has never met her father Henry—a man that once recited his marital vows during a highly questionable tribal ceremony. Shortly, Daphne’s college-aged parents would head to England where her father’s stuffy upper-lipped family would shun her poor mother and then chase her off back to the States—while pregnant with Daphne to boot. Soon the royal pain-in-the-neck clan would lie to Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth) by telling him that his bride had abandoned him. Thus, Henry would go on to prominence as a big name, indifferent English politician. Of course, his knowledge of having an American-born offspring doesn’t exist thanks to the pressure of his devious and snooty relatives.

Anyway, it’s a matter of time when Daphne decides to pack her bags and hunt down daddy dearest in London. Upon finally meeting her father Henry at his posh estate, Daphne has to overcome the rigors of dealing with the uncomfortable father-daughter bonding process. Also, the stress regarding the culture-clash not to mention the prototypical stiff British society and the snobbery that accompanies it proves to be a trying ordeal for the visiting American teen. Consequently, it appears that Daphne’s arrival couldn’t have come at a worst time since her father is actively preparing for the prime minister elections thus making her a lingering distraction.

To Henry’s credit, he slowly welcomes the innate rush of vitality he once felt during his heyday with Daphne’s mother and it’s clear that his U.S. born-and-bred daughter is capturing his spontaneous heart that was once submerged by his opportunistic and humorless family and associates. It’s quite understandable that Daphne’s a liability to those who would gladly ride on Lord Henry’s coattails. How dare this Yankee tart show up from nowhere and threaten to bite the hand that feeds them? Among the cast of characters that would like to send Daphne back across the Atlantic Ocean is the pompous instigator and resident overseer (Jonathan Pryce)—the man that caused the emotional wedge in Daphne’s parents’ marital bliss way back when. Then there’s Henry’s pushy and materialistic fiancée (Anna Chancellor) who’s not too thrilled with Daphne’s interference as she awaits her important man’s appointment to “political greatness”. The annoyed woman’s nose-up-in-the-air daughter (Christina Cole) feels threatened that her soon-to-be bigshot stepfather will disregard her and heap all this affection, attention and financial support on his natural blood-related charge.

What A Girl Wants not only tip toes in the copycat spirit of the aforementioned and similarly-themed The Princess Diaries, it also makes for a relentlessly flat and anemic travelogue where we get the endless third degree shots of double-decker buses, manicured grassy lawns, British bobbies with their trademark tall furry helmets, glimpses of the scenic English countryside and the bombardment of the ever-so-proper accents. And when the movie isn’t resorting to its Cinderella-esque sentimentalities then it takes a time out to bog down the already thinly devised storyline with a matter-of-factly sidebar romance concerning Daphne’s flirtatious relationship with a local working class lad (Oliver James) who fancies himself quite the musician. With all the sporadic diversions that this witty farce occasionally tosses around, the movie manages to neatly tie together the strings between the giddy gal and her distant daddy. But the question remains: just when did Daphne and her prudish papa have the time to mend the fences when the movie dutifully focuses so much on the other throwaway nuances of the scattering script?

The truth of the matter is that What A Girl Wants isn’t necessarily what a girl needs—a derivative and excessively perky preteen portrait of a curvy belly-buttoned babe-in-the-woods saddled with trivial MTV-style montages posing as an entertaining showcase of subtle angst. Hopelessly sappy and inconsequential in its relevance, this clueless concoction will be immediately dismissed simply by its plucky but pointless platitudes.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Frank Ochieng



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