WHAT A GIRL WANTS
***1/2 (out of 5)
April 4, 2003
Amanda Bynes as DAPHNE REYNOLDS
Colin Firth as HENRY DASHWOOD
Kelly Preston as LIBBY REYNOLDS
Anna Chancellor as GLYNNIS
Christina Cole as CLARISSA
Oliver James as IAN WALLACE
Directed by: Dennie Gordon
BY KEVIN CARR
I have to admit that I was dreading to see this movie. My wife actually made me go see it so we could have some time together. Reluctantly, I went, terrified I would be subjected to 100 minutes of an overblown movie that had the flavor of a made-for-TV movie for the Disney Channel.
And, with my tail between my legs, I also have to admit that I liked it.
Oh, sure, this film had every imaginable cliche already done in “The Princess Diaries” and any other movie about a young girl finding herself. But what else did you expect?
Amanda Bynes (fresh off her WB television show “What I Like About You”) stars as Daphne Reynolds, who lives with her singer/songwriter single mom Libby (Kelly Preston) in Chinatown, New York. She has never known her father, although she knows his story: Libby met Henry (Colin Firth) in Morocco when they were radical twentysomethings and got married in a tribal ritual.
When Henry brought her home to meet his family, who are members of the British House of Lords (making Henry 38th in line for the throne), they are none too pleased. When Henry’s father dies suddenly, leaving him to take over the family’s affairs, his advisors send Libby packing.
Seventeen years later, Daphne obsesses about the father she never met. On a free-spirited whim, she races off to England to find him and finally get some quality father-daughter time. Upon arriving in London, she discovers that Henry has given up his seat in the House of Lords to run for Parliament, and he is also engaged to catty Glynnis (Anna Chancellor), his chief advisor’s daughter. Of course, this doesn’t deter Daphne from sneaking into his fancy mansion to confront him.
Everyone is outraged by Daphne’s existence, except Henry. Flabbergasted and overjoyed that he has a daughter, Henry invites her to stay the summer with him, much to the chagrin of Glynnis and her daughter Clarissa. Daphne turns Henry’s stuffy English world upside down as he unleashes her upon British high society. However, over the summer, she also helps him come out of his shell and tries to fit into her new family.
While this film is clearly a one-seat vehicle for Amanda Bynes, the story is really more about Henry and how he deals with his new 17-year-old daughter. In many scenes, Bynes does too many of the standard fish-out-of-water gags, which do get old fast. She’s got a lot of spunk, but it’s doubtful she could really carry a heavily film herself (unlike Hillary Duff from “Lizzie McGuire”). Fortunately, Bynes is surrounded by some good actors, like Colin Firth and Anna Chancellor.
There is, of course, the painfully obvious subplot of Ian Wallace (Oliver James), Daphne’s blue-collar boyfriend whom she meets within her first few hours in London. When he first comes on screen strumming a guitar and singing, I cringed, dreading that the plot would focus on him. After all, Ian is a walking cliche and James doesn’t do much with the character. However, he quickly becomes a secondary role, which was a relief.
There could have been more of Clarissa, the wicked-stepsister-to-be. She is unfortunately burdened with a stock character and doesn’t really get a chance to shine her comedic talent except for her first scene when she sees Daphne sneaking over the wall into the mansion.
The film gets off to a rough start and lays on the cuteness a little thick. However, the movie really starts to take shape once Henry comes out of his shell and remembers what it’s like to be young. If you’re a man with a pre-teen or teenage daughter, make a date with her to see this film. While it may not touch the single man, the family man will certainly have a soft spot for it.
“What a Girl Wants” probably won’t break any records, and it’s certainly not going to win any awards. It’s got a relatively narrow audience, the “Lizzie McGuire” crowd. But it’s definitely a cute film if you’re into that sort of thing. My wife is, and given the right circumstances, I can be to.