What a Girl Wants (2003)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2003 David N. Butterworth
** (out of ****)

Well, it's not Mel Gibson in a girdle (that's "What Women Want"). What a girl wants is probably something closer to love and respect from her parents (oh, and a boyfriend who's the lead singer in a rock band wouldn't hurt either, even if said rock band only plays weddings and bar mitzvahs).

Seventeen-year-old Daphne Reynolds knows her mother loves and respects her, since the two of them share a pretty close relationship in their 5th floor Chinatown walkup, but she's not so sure about Dad, since Dad doesn't know she exists. Free-spirited New Yorker Mum met stuffy, stiff-upper-lipped British Dad while in Morocco and was wed in a simple Bedouin ceremony, but fled the country when the societal pressures of being married to a high-profile English politician kicked in.

Feeling like half a person with her knowledge-of-Dad side missing, the equally free-spirited lovechild Daphne drops in unexpectedly on Dad and his stuffy, stiff-upper-lipped British lifestyle one day and the fun begins in "What a Girl Wants."

     Or should I say "and the pratfalls begin."

Amanda Bynes (Nickelodeon's "The Amanda Show") stars as Daphne and while not the greatest actress on the planet, she does have a knack for physical comedy that the film's producers milk for all its worth. She's cute and bubbly with big green eyes that retain our attention. Colin Firth, on the other hand, has a knack for playing stuffy, stiff-upper-lipped Englishmen ("Shakespeare in Love," "My Life So Far," "Bridget Jones's Diary," "The Importance of Being Earnest," etc.) so he's perfectly cast in the role of Lord Henry Dashwood, initially shocked by his daughter's brazen and rebellious nature but later more than a little intrigued (especially by how many things they seem to do the same way, like applying jam to a piece of hot buttered toast, for example).

And while this slight, unassuming comedy in that "The Princess Diaries" and the forthcoming "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" vein is aimed at teenage girls, fans of Firth will not be disappointed.

Actually, one of the cutest scenes in the film (and "What a Girl Wants" has cute written all over it, from the characters to the situations to the insipid song score) is when Dad finally loosens up, slipping into the motorbike leathers he wore as a teen and air guitaring to Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" in front of a full-length mirror. Pretty darned cute for Colin Firth I'd say.

Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler have taken William Douglas Home's 1958 screenplay "The Reluctant Debutante" (previously filmed with Sandra Dee in the Amanda Bynes role) and updated it for a 2003 audience. Dennie Gordon ("Joe Dirt") directs. It's a Cinderella story, of course, right down to the wicked stepmother (nicely realized by Anna Chancellor--she plays Henry's venomous fiancée Glynnis Payne) and her equally possessive teenage daughter Clarissa (Christina Cole), who isn't about to give up her appointed role easily. A luminous Kelly Preston (currently on view in Bruno Barreto's flight attendant comedy "View from the Top") is also noteworthy as Daphne's bohemian mother Libby. Jonathan Pryce, however, is oddly wasted.

Predictable and plucky, "What a Girl Wants" is a pleasant diversion, but not much more than that. Unless, of course, you're a girl in the 7-17 age range or a woman over 30, in which case Bynes and Firth respectively will make it worth your while.

David N. Butterworth

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