What a Girl Wants

To younger viewers, What a Girl Wants is reminiscent of last year's The Princess Diaries, where an ordinary girl discovers she is actually European royalty. To older viewers, this movie reminds them of 1958's The Reluctant Debutante starring Rex Harrison and Sandra Dee, and with good reason, What a Girl Wants is based on William Douglas Home's screenplay. To especially astute cinephiles, this movie is the latest salvo in the hidden war between Amanda Bynes and Hilary Duff. There are uncanny coincidences in the rising careers of both these young women, and in many cases, Bynes is winning. Both got their start on cable, and made their 'official' debut in a movie opposite Frankie Muniz. Both have a loyal following of the crucial young female 'tweener demographic, where little girls will nag their parents to watch and buy anything associated with these women. And both are/will be in movies where they are ordinary girls, finding fame in Europe (with at least one bout of clumsiness in each trailer).

Bynes (Big Fat Liar) is Daphne Reynolds, who feels she is missing a huge piece of her identity. She never met her father. Long ago, her mother Libby (Kelly Preston, View from the Top, Daddy and Them) met her father, Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth, The Importance of Being Earnest, Bridget Jones's Diary) in Morocco, where they wed in a Bedouin wedding. He brought her back to England, where his aristocratic family abhorred her hippie ways. Family advisor Alastair Payne (Jonathan Pryce, The Affair of the Necklace, Very Annie Mary) arranged for her to leave, and to both Henry and Libby it seemed like the other left. Now, at every wedding she goes to, Daphne feels a great amount of sadness every time she watches a father-daughter dance.

So what is this spunky girl to do? Why go to England! She suddenly appears in Henry's home, just as he is about to be married, and recently abdicated his seat in the House of Lords. He is now running for elected office, and many think he is the future of his party. His fiancee is Payne's daughter Glynnis (Anna Chancellor, Crush, Heart). Glynnis and her daughter (Christina Cole) take an instant disliking to Daphne, the loud, uncouth American. Henry's mother (Eileen Atkins, The Hours, Gosford Park) is much friendlier. Everybody, including Henry, are so stereotypically British that it soon becomes annoying. They are all stuffy, tradition bound, and unemotional. Daphne is the opposite, and her presence in the Dashwood household throws a wrench into Henry's political ambitions. At the same time, Jenny Bicks' and Elizabeth Chandler's (Someone Like You, A Little Princess) screenplay goes the typical route. Henry tells Daphne she needs to change. Daphne tries to change and becomes unhappy. However, Daphne's presence begins to change the people around her.

Just like this review, What a Girl Wants is much too long. It feels like an ode to Bynes by director Dennie Gordon (Joe Dirt). There are the obligatory scenes of her touring London, and too many montages of her dancing or trying on clothes. The main appeal will go to young girls, who will adore this movie the same way they did with The Princess Diaries. It's a nice little dream for them to go from being normal to being rich, living in a huge house, and getting cute clothes. For everybody else, the story is a little too familiar, and Gordon does nothing to distinguish this movie from the others. It feels bland and dry, with the odd exception of Firth, who brings with him a respectability that this film doesn't deserve. He's good in his role as Henry because he does a great job of looking uncomfortable. The drawback is that, as presented, Henry is kind of dumb. Everybody can see that Glynnis wants him only for the money. Well, everybody except him. The script similarly dumbs down everybody else, presenting them simplistically as not to unnecessarily complicate the wannabe fairy tale quality of the film. But Bynes beat Duff to the punch! Now they must battle to the death!

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG for mild language.

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