movie film review | chris tookey

What a Girl Wants

Warner Brothers. Photo by Frank Connor - all rights reserved
  What a Girl Wants Review
Tookey's Rating
1 /10
Average Rating
4.10 /10
Daphne Reynolds: Amanda Bynes (pictured left), Henry Dashwood: Colin Firth (pictured right) , Libby Reynolds: Kelly Preston
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Directed by: Dennie Gordon
Written by: Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler , based on the 1956 play and 1958 screenplay The Reluctant Debutante by William Douglas Home

Released: 2003
Genre: SO BAD
Origin: US
Length: 0

A teenage Amercan joins the British aristocracy.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Once or twice a year there comes along a movie that's so atrocious it's a hoot. What a Girl Wants, an inept rip-off of The Princess Diaries, puts the "Duh!" back in Cinderella. It's a hilariously stupid American tourist's-eye view of Modern Britain.

The teen heroine is a sparky, relentlessly cheerful New Yorker called Daphne (Amanda Bynes, pictured centre) who falls over a lot, bangs her head and generally behaves in a way that is meant to indicate to us that she's either a lovable free spirit or incurably brain-damaged.

Like any good American teenager of the Bush era, she dreams of meeting her Tony Blair, I mean Prince Charming - that's Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), a dashing British peer who doesn't know he's Daphne's dad.

This is because his evil spin-doctor (Jonathan Pryce, slumming again) broke up Lord Henry's marriage to Daphne's mother, Libby (Kelly Preston) by telling her that Henry suddenly didn't want her and she must leave the country, then assuring Henry that Libby had done a runner and wouldn't see him any more.

I know, I know. You're wondering why (a) neither Lord Henry nor Libby checked the veracity of the spin-doctor, and (b) Libby, who's so hard up that now she is a wedding singer, didn't sue Lord Henry for millions of pounds in alimony and child support. All I can say is: hey, I'm reporting this stuff, not writing it.

Poor deserted Daphne has no designs on Lord Henry's fortune. It's more of a spiritual need to meet her dad. "I feel like half of me is missing," she complains, and she doesn't mean her brain-cells.

So Daphne flies off to London, sees the sights, does the shopping and falls for an up-and-coming rock singer called Ian (Oliver James) who has a lovable cockney accent that comes and goes. "The dog and bone's on the blink," he says about the phone, only to abandon rhyming slang for the rest of the movie.

By the end, Ian sounds quite posh and talks in deeply meaningful sentences. It is no mean challenge to a young actor to begin his debut as Vinnie Jones and come out the other end as Simon Schama, and poor Oliver James never stands a chance.

But the man Daphne most wants to meet in the world is not Ian but her father. The timing is unfortunate. He has just given up his seat in the Lords to pursue a supposedly glittering career in the Commons as a Tory candidate, and we all know how fatal a whiff of a long-lost child can be to a politician. Just look at John and Pauline Prescott.

Unlike every other politician in Britain, Lord Henry hasn't aged in 17 years, possibly because he's stinking rich with a country estate slap in the heart of London and, get this, the Metropolitan police guarding his front gate. Mind you, Daphne outwits the police easily enough by scaling a wall - one of the few concessions to realism in the entire movie.

Further bad news for Daphne is that Lord Henry has a scheming fiancee (Anna Chancellor, reprising her Duckface from Four Weddings but mixing in a little Wicked Witch of the West), and a social-climbing stepdaughter (Christina Cole).

Lord Henry's initial reaction to the revelation that he has a daughter is to look severely constipated. Then he worries about the impact on his political reputation. "There is no story here!" Firth barks at reporters, or possibly his agent.

Fortunately, Lord Henry's soft-hearted mum (Eileen Atkins) isn't a snob, though she is terribly, terribly English. "No hugs, dear!" she tells her long-lost grand-daughter as she takes her into the family home. "I'm British. We only show affection to dogs and horses."

Daphne makes her way in top English society, and even charms the Royal Family of which she is apparently an instant member (39th in succession to the throne, no less). She scandalises the British by wearing jeans (apparently we haven't seen these garments before). She pushes a Hooray Henry into the water at the Henley Regatta (serves him right for calling the lower orders peasants).

She even does the unimaginably un-British thing of dancing to loud rock music which - horrors! - causes a chandelier to break. According to the movie, this ranks as front-page headline news in the Daily Telegraph, much to the spluttering amusement of its critic, sitting immediately behind me.

Daphne tries heroically to conform to the English way of doing things in, say, the Fifties (and I mean of course the 1850s), and predictably starts losing her identity as an utterly conventional modern teenager. She even alienates her wannabe-rockstar lover who keeps turning up in unlikely places to ask searching life-questions such as "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"
(though oddly enough she stands out much more when she's trying to be an outdated English deb.)

With each new social gaffe by his daughter, Lord Henry's ratings in the opinion polls plummet - how nice to see an American movie with so keen an insight into the judgmental ultra-conservatism of the British electorate. But don't worry - it all turns out well in the end, as long as you don't expect the teenagers to grow up.

What happens instead is that the adults become more juvenile to make the teenagers feel at ease. In a scene of excruciating embarrassment, Colin Firth even squeezes himself into tight leather trousers and plays air guitar. It's as cringeworthy as Tony Blair trying to get matey with schoolchildren around the time of a general election.

This moronic piece of hokum, distantly related to a creaky old play by William Douglas Home (filmed in 1958 as The Reluctant Debutante) may conceivably appeal to extremely naive young girls in the Midwest of America, with a hankering desire to be princesses in the British royal family, as long as it doesn't involve marrying Prince Charles
It's ideally suited to the sort of young women who talk to their friends on cellphones during the boring bits of other movies.
For anyone more sensitive or sophisticated, it's an exasperating insight into the way the British are seen in America. I just hope the numerous cultural traitors to be found walking through their roles in this patronising, racist nonsense were well paid for demeaning themselves and their nation.

Hot on the trail of the appalling Hope Springs, this is the second stinker in a row by Colin Firth, who eventually repents of his character's exaggerated Englishness and tells Daphne's mum "I think I owe you rather a large apology." Not half as large an apology as you owe us, Colin.

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