Director: Dennie Gordon
Once in a while a film critic finds himself attracted to the unlikeliest movies. Tonight, I could have been watching some well-regarded foreign language release or maybe an innovative independent film or even something lowbrow like the latest John McTiernan or Chris Rock’s directorial debut. Anything but this sugary comedy targeted squarely at teenage girls, right? Don’t I actively dislike annoyingly superficial girlie-girls flicks and haven’t I vowed never to waste my time with them anymore? Then again, it’s raining, I’m tired… and I have a little crush on Amanda Bynes, who’s cuter than both Olsen twins rolled into one!
Bynes stars as Daphne Reynolds, a fun-loving teenage girl from New York who goes to England to establish a relationship with her long-absent father (Colin Firth), a prominent political figure unaware that after his brief idyll with a free-spirited American woman (Kelly Preston) years ago, “fate gave her the most beautiful gift of all: a beautiful daughter” (fate? how about unprotected sex?). Are we in for a touching, multi-layered story about father-daughter relationships? Or is this is a Cinderella, fish-out-of-water, wild gal loosening up the aristocrats, “trying to fit in, born to stand out”, WACKY! romp? If I tell you that this is the second feature of Dennie Gordon, who last directed Joe Dirt (a movie I was embarrassingly fond of, actually), and that it’s named after a Christina Aguilera song, does that give you an idea?
There are a lot of eye-rollingly trite scenes full of contrived sentimentality and the rest of the film is padded with way too many let’s-try-on-outfits scenes and musical montages (including one set to The Clash‘s London Calling– punk is dead indeed), but the cast is likable enough to somewhat elevate the by-the-numbers screenplay (an updated version of the 1958 Minelli film “The Reluctant Debutante”). I liked how the movie dares to embrace its own corniness, with lines like “I love you like a million red M&Ms” or “Oh! My evil stepsister!, and while Daphne’s constant pratfalls and social faux pas are not all that funny, Amanda Bynes is at her most adorable when she’s being goofy. I also found her romance with a not-too-threatening bad boy (Oliver James) surprisingly endearing. She’s got much chemistry with James, who’s pretty damn cool as a motorbike-riding Brit musician who can really funk up a stuffy debutante soirée!
“What a Girl Wants” has got the production values of a TV movie, it’s derivative, inconsequential and desperately predictable, but if you’re in the mood for a harmless MTVed fairy tale you’ll have a good time.