What a Girl Wants (2003)

Written by Jenny Bicks & Elizabeth Chandler, based on the 1958 screenplay for The Reluctant Debutante by William Douglas-Howe, which was in turn based on his play
Directed by Dennie Gordon
Starring Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Jonathan Pryce, Eileen Atkins


Released by Warner Brothers
Rating: PG
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: If you have a young daughter, she probably already owns it.

Daphne (Bynes) is a young girl who has grown up her whole life with just her mom (Preston). Her dad (Firth) has been a strange, idealized father figure whom she's always wanted to meet, but has been kinda protected from him (and the possibility of being hurt) by her mom. You see, when Mom was wandering the world as a free-spirited musician, she ran into Dad in Morocco (literally) and they fell madly in love. They also got married, which complicated things as Dad was the heir to the Dashwood estate in England. When Dad's dad passed away, Dad became the new Lord Dashwood, and Mom was promptly scooted out of the picture by the Dashwood family Walsingham, Alistair Payne (Price). Now seventeen, Daphne has decided to run away to the UK and find her dad...but is a rising, very British politician ready to deal with a headstrong, individual like Daphne?

Okay, first things first. Full disclosure: I'm not a twelve year old girl. Yes, I know it's a shocking revelation. However, because I'm not a twelve year old girl, this movie was not designed with me in mind. Were I a twelve year old girl, or any female around in that time frame, I'd think this was the coolest movie since the last Olsen Twins opus. It keys into the Fantasy Metastory that most girls clue into--that secretly they're a princess and one day their real parents will show up and whisk them away to some far off kingdom. Now, granted, the spin is that the parents are both real, only separated, but still--for a twelve year old, Britain, with all of its ginormous houses that are older than pretty much anything on the North American continent, is a perfect stand-in for the fantasy kingdom. And Colin Firth is a lord with a tremendous estate--works for me. So from that standpoint, I can respect the filmmakers' eye for aiming straight for their chosen demographic.

Not to say that there's nothing to be amused at for those of us of different ages, and yes, different genders. Eileen Atkins is terribly amusing as the matriarch of the Dashwood clan who just doesn't give a damn anymore. Firth is doing admirably well playing the conflicted father, but he's not given a lot to do. Bynes playes Everygirl very well, and stamps on through the schlock with gifted aplomb. For the most part, neither the acting nor the script does anything you wouldn't expect it to do--but granted, you didn't sit down to watch this expecting anything to be pioneered.

On the features side, you've got two commentary tracks. The first with Bynes is, again, perfect for the teen girl who can't get enough of this thing. Me, I got a saccarhine overload after the twenty-fifth time that I learned someone in the cast or crew was "sweet." Cute, but egads, there are limits. The other track with both scribes and the director is a bit more fleshed out in terms of giving you the things you normally sit down for a commentary to hear--I was especially impressed to learn that they shot the entire thing in Britain--including Chinatown and the Jersey wedding sequence.

The fashion and etiquette featurette was brief, but effective. It's always fascinating to hear from costume designers as to why they made certain choices. The fashion game where you have to match together Bynes' outfits from certain scenes--man, this thing stymied the hell out of me. I could barely put together one outfit, so let that be my character note.

As I've made abundantly clear by now, this movie really isn't my bag. But I recognize that and give points for it doing exactly what it set out to do: key into the adventure fantasies of young girls. I mean, for God's sake: they scored Colin Firth for the film, you can't tell me they didn't know what they were doing. Anyway, in the demographic, own it; Firth completists should rent first.

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