WHAT A GIRL WANTS
Free-spirited American 17-year-old Daphne (Amanda Bynes) has always dreamt of meeting her English father. Leaving her mother Libby (Kelly Preston), Daphne arrives on the doorstep of Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), a prominent English peer and politician who has been unaware of his daughter's existence until now. Attempting to fit in with the social customs required of an aristocrat's daughter during the coming out season, Daphne faces stern opposition from Henry's socially ambitious fiancee Glynnis (Anna Chancellor) and her jealous daughter Clarissa (Christine Cole). Her budding romance with aspiring singer Ian (Oliver James) also suffers as Daphne comes to terms with the differences between her dreams and the reality of life in her father's world.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
This remake of the 1958 Sandra Dee-Rex Harrison starrer, The Reluctant Debutante, is pure fairy floss and not to be confused with anything remotely connected with the real world. What A Girl Wants could be subtitled 'What A Scriptwriter Wants': problems are quickly resolved, most of the characters are mothballed caricatures from yesteryear and convenient plot twists reign supreme. Directed by Dennie Gordon, whose TV credits include Ally McBeal and Dawson's Creek, this fairy tale at least features a mostly sparky cast who make the most of the musty material. Children's TV host Amanda Bynes might even be too sparky for audiences outside the teen girl target demographic. Her boundless enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder are irritating at times but she does have charming qualities that deserve a chance in a better showcase. Colin Firth sleepwalks through his role as the befuddled father but he's so handsome it hardly matters. Faring better are Anna Cancellor ('Duck Face' from Four Weddings and a Funeral) who injects plenty of ham into her socially ambitious character, a reptilian Jonathan Pryce as her scheming father and veteran Eileen Atkins who dashes out some of the funniest lines as Firth's mother - 'we're English, we only show affection to dogs and horses,' she tells her American grand-daughter. A couple of amusing physical gags and a few smart jabs aimed at the British class system bring smiles, though not enough to raise proceedings above the mediocre. The humour is too broad and forced as Daphne creates havoc on the English social scene and the sentiment is mushy while she's being romanced by singer/hostel receptionist/car park attendant Ian, who is played uncharismatically by Oliver James. Filmed at the well-appointed estate of the real Lord Dashwood (one of his ancestors founded the Hellfire Gentleman's Club of Victorian England), What A Girl Wants is a forgettable fish-out-of-water story that tries too hard to be cute and isn't convincing when it attempts to inject modern social issues into its soft-focus fantasy scenario. Like far too many films being force-fed into multiplex cinemas these days, What A Girl Wants is an adequate TV attraction but it's not much chop on the big screen.
Review by Jake Wilson:
From Hugh Grant to Harry Potter, modern Hollywood remains firmly committed to its time-honoured view of Britain as a fairy-tale land of snooty butlers, stuffy boarding schools, and charming yet vaguely effete aristocrats. This Cinderella story for 12-year-old girls trades on the residual glamour of such stereotypes while struggling to reconcile them with the attitudes and values of today’s pop culture. Tellingly, this time round the fish-out-of-water protagonist isn’t a coltish tomboy like Sandra Dee, a wisecracking dame like Fran Drescher, or even a charming airhead like Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. Rather, she’s ingenuously embodied by long-legged, puffy-faced Amanda Bynes as a blank piece of jailbait in the Britney Spears mold, virginally pouting and flirting with practised aplomb. She might be a 21st-century version of Henry James’ innocently brazen Daisy Miller – though keeping its pre-teen audience in mind, the film prefers to view her free-and-easy ways as evidence of a healthy, chilled-out attitude. The problem is that while the film ostensibly caters to old-world princess fantasies, Daphne clearly has nothing to gain by emulating the stuck-up Brits; like any switched-on American girl, she’s already in possession of a sexier and more contemporary sense of style gleaned from fashion ads and MTV. So what price royalty, in an age when the real gods are Gwyneth and Madonna? Maybe these uncertainties help explain why the film comes off as slackly written and carelessly directed even on its own featherweight terms. There also seemed to be some problems with the sound mix (at least in the apparently incomplete print I saw, which was missing the final credits). Still, forgettable as it is, What A Girl Wants remains cinematically preferable to any number of cramped digital video ‘art movies’ – the colours are brighter, and the budget permits a few aerial shots.
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WHAT A GIRL WANTS (G)
AKA – AMERICAN GIRL
CAST: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Anna Chancellor, Tom Harper, Jonathan Pryce, Eileen Atkins
PRODUCER: Denise Di Novi, Bill Gerber, Hunt Lowry
DIRECTOR: Dennie Gordon
SCRIPT: Jenny Bicks, Elizabeth Chandler (William Douglas Home, play & 1958 screenplay)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Dunn
EDITOR: Chuck McClelland
MUSIC: Rupert Gregson-Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Carlin
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 3, 2003
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