ARTS

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April 15, 2003

This girl knows what she wants: her daddy

If you are over the age of 15, and don?t hanker after girls of the same age, you might be wondering why on earth you would ever go see What a Girl Wants. Explicitly marketed to the recently invented ?tween? demographic, the movie, staring Amanda Bynes from that WB television show with Kelly from 90210, might be about as appealing to you as watching reruns of the Olsen twins? failed sitcom. I?ll confess, with no shame, to watching that show whenever I come across it in rerun on ABC Family, and maybe that means I have bad taste. Whatever. What a Girl Wants is a ridiculously appealing and charming silly little movie that?s more entertaining than most of the movies you?ve seen in a long while.

Daphne Reynolds, Bynes, is a 17-year-old New Yorker who?s lived her whole life above a Chinese restaurant with her mother Libby, played by Kelly Preston, a singer who now performs at weddings. Daphne has never met her father, Henry Dashwood, played by Colin Firth, but every single time there?s a father-daughter dance at a wedding she wishes with all her heart that she could. Her father and mother met and married in some hippied-out ceremony in Africa, but when Henry brought his new wife home to meet his aristocratic British parents, they basically flipped their shit at the sight of this bra-less, blond American and badgered her secretly pregnant self out of Henry?s life.

Seventeen years later, Daphne hops on a plane and goes to London, where her father has just resigned his hereditary position in the House of Lords to make a bid for MP. Because, you see, things like hereditary wealth and position are not cool; being different and individual (i.e. being American), which apparently means dancing around while you try on clothes and embarrassing yourself at every possible moment, is. What it comes down to is that this sweet, unflappable, unassuming American girl is clearly going to kick some stodgy British behind.

Whether or not such ?down?with?Britain? sentiment is actually cool now that they are basically taking it in the ass for us is an interesting question. Though, I think greater consideration probably just went to the fact that putting British people down is supposedly always funny. All the expected villains, with appropriately posh accents, are assembled and accounted for; evil advisor man, obsequious and bitchy soon?to?be stepsister, social climbing soon-to---be stepmom, and horny, arrogant Eton boy. Daphne beats ?em all.

Not that all the Brits are bad. There is Daphne?s slightly batty grandmother, who has realized that there?s more to life than social position, the cute singer boy who wants Daphne to just be who she is and, of course, dear old dad. And here we come to the creepy portion of the film. (The most upsetting moment in the movie actually involves Henry trying on his old leather pants and rocking out in front of his mirror. A more upsetting and embarrassing dance sequence has never been caught on film. It even forced me to reevaluate Colin Firth?s attractiveness and, as huge fan of A&E?s Pride and Prejudice, that is saying a whole lot). This movie is quite explicitly a love story between Daphne and Lord Dashwood, and though it?s supposed to be in a father-daughter way its just, well, not. Daphne?s desire to find her father always seems a bit extreme. When he whisks her away from an embarrassing social event on a motorcycle he?s proving just what kind of a man he is, and it ain?t daddy. In the climactic sappy moment of the film Henry delivers a speech that, in addition to having been delivered almost verbatim in about 10 other movies, is exactly what he would say, in movieland, to the girl he loves.

Though they try to cover it up by pretending Dashwood and Libby have never gotten over each other, there?s no mistaking the romantic leads in this film.

So, wait, why is this a good movie? Firstly, it doesn?t take itself that seriously. It knows it?s playing into about a hundred clich├ęs and it does it all with a huge goofy smile on its face that is completely contagious. This is due mostly to Amanda Bynes, who is a charmer. I?m sure there are those who will find her bubbly persona nauseating, and that it?s only a matter of time before an ?I Hate Amanda Bynes? website appears, but those people are just haters. Daphne?s a good kid; she?s adaptable, happy, and up for anything. When her stepsister convinces her that a royal fashion show (no, I?m not kidding) is a causal affair, she walks the runway in jeans and a tank top with utter confidence. When she trips into Prince Charles? lap (again, I?m not kidding) she brushes it off, and not in an ?I?m too stupid to know that was embarrassing? kind of way, but with an incredibly appealing lack of self-conscious. Daphne is the ideal America girl: unique, sweet, non-judgmental, and self-sufficient. Stodgy royals love her, dogs love her, and you?ll love her too.