What a Girl Wants (2003) / Comedy-Family
MPAA Rated: PG for mild language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Anna Chancellor, Oliver James, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Dennie Gordon
Screenplay: Jenny Bicks, Elizabeth Chandler (based on the 1958 film and play, "The Reluctant Debutante", by William Douglas-Home)
Review published March 24, 2003
Whenever I see a film that is wholly intended for an audience of which I am not a part of, I feel the need to put in a disclaimer to let you know, so that you can take this into account as to why I am giving it a negative review. Such is the case for What a Girl Wants, which has a definite audience for young girls of about 8 to 14, and probably little outside of this. Sure, there might also be an audience out there of men about my age or older, but I suspect for reasons I'd rather not think about, just as I loathe knowing that the fan base for the Olsen twins finds a similar dichotomy of fans. But I digress...
Amanda Bynes ("The Amanda Show", "All That") stars as Daphne, bred up to be a free spirit by her hippie-ish mother, who once had a brief fling with a British nobleman, who has been long out of the picture. Daphne so desperately wants to know what it feels like to have a father, but Mom doesn't want to go through the agony again, so young Daph travels to England to find out for herself. Her father is Henry Dashwood (Firth, Hope Springs), currently the favorite running for office in an election that seems smooth sailing, that is until an unexpected daughter shows up, and a rather uncouth one at that. Henry is engaged to be married to another well-to-do woman, and a manipulative stepdaughter also is there to make Daphne's life miserable. Daphne finds it a Cinderella story, but is she happier living as Cinderella or in just being herself?
What a Girl Wants is a very cheesy attempt at making another entry into the glossy girlie genre that The Princess Diaries tapped into, with a similar storyline to match. Taken for what it is, namely, a knowingly and shamelessly corny attempt to entertain a largely young female audience, I suppose it works in a fashion, and admittedly, there have been examples that are far worse. It's so sugary sweet as to be almost unpalatable, and Amanda Bynes attempts to be cute and rambunctious at all times does tend to grate on one's nerves, especially during the trite "let's try on different outfits and look adorable" montages, while prancing around maniacally to the commercial soundtrack.
You've seen it all before, especially if you are familiar with William Douglas-Home's play, "The Reluctant Debutante," which was also made into a movie back in 1958, and the screenplay for that film provides the backbone for What a Girl Wants (I assume the name change is meant to appeal to the aforementioned young girls familiar with the Christina Aguilera song of the same name.) However, as cornball as the main plot is, this film tries so desperately to be modern, from its fashions and music. A more accurate description would be an even more watered-down version of Pretty Woman, with Colin Firth playing the Richard Gere role of the rich man having to confront his feelings while introducing a spirited fish-out-of-water, who makes him happy despite the displeasure of the crusty socialites around him.
This is very much the formula girlie-girl flick, so don't expect any surprises for the duration. It's nothing new, and only the likeability of the performers is enough to elevate this throwaway nonsense from being outright obnoxious. If you're still at an age (or mentality) where MTV is on your television watching agenda for most of the day, you're probably the type who might be entertained by this music video era comedy of manners. Everyone else will probably experience a gag reflex when such an overload of cotton candy sweetness would be your only source for sustenance for the almost two hour duration. What a Girl Wants isn't necessarily likely to be what anyone else might want.
©2003 Vince Leo