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What A Girl Wants

MPAA Rating: PG

Starring: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Jonathan Pryce, Anna Chancellor
Directed by: Dennie Gordon

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...What a girl wants--at the movies, at least--is somebody she wants to watch playing somebody she wants to be going through something she wants to care about.
...But the movie industry had gotten into the practice of ignoring girls of pretty much all ages until a season or two ago, when the female audience--young and/or old--suddenly presented itself as a viable commercial target.
...What A Girl Wants (based on 1958's Vincente Minnelli-directed The Reluctant Debutante) is a romantic comedy aimed primarily at the tween audience--preadolescent and adolescent viewers--who feel a connection to the time-tested Cinderella fable.
...That this confection speaks to its "constituency" so much more directly than to a general audience tells you two things about director Dennie Gordon (The Adventures of Joe Dirt): that she knows precisely to and for whom her movie speaks, and that aesthetic quality is not her primary agenda.
...What a Girl Wants stars Amanda Bynes (of TV's The Amanda Show and What I Like About You and the big screen's Big Fat Liar) as the 17-year-old daughter of a bohemian musician mother (Kelly Preston) who takes off for London to meet the father she's never known, an aristocratic Brit who's making a run for Parliament, played by the highly-skilled Colin Firth.
...Discovering why her parents split up in the first place and determining exactly where, if anywhere, she fits in--and whether she really wants to--are components of this coming-of-age journey and the Cinderella connection is underscored, in crude crayon strokes, by what can only be described as the presence of an evil stepmother and stepsister.
...The heart of this movie is the touching relationship between father and daughter, and the scenes between the appealing Bynes and the consummate Firth offer the best moments.
...But the strained attempts at slapstick comedy--most of them fueled by the tension between blue-collar American clumsiness and blue-blooded English reserve--are painful to watch and the plot contrivances so lacking in subtlety and credibility, you find yourself comparing sequences to your memory of The Princess Diaries, a superior entertainment that this film clearly aspires to replicate.
...Will any of this bother fans of Bynes and rags-to-riches rooters?
...So we'll maintain a stiff upper lip while serving 2 stars out of 4 for a wish-fulfillment fairy tale about a father and daughter that's emotionally involving despite its flailings and failings in the romance and comedy departments.
...What a Girl Wants is, warts and all, pretty much just that.



...For a similarly-themed movie that also speaks to its audience but at a higher level of moviemaking skill, take a look at The Princess Diaries (2001), director Garry Marshall's funny, enjoyable fable with Anne Hathaway as a teen who finds out that she's an heir to a throne and Julie Andrews as the grandmother who schools her in how to conduct herself as royalty.


...Big Fat Liar (2002) is another family fable, this one a much funnier variation on The Boy Who Cried Wolf, in which Amanda Bynes contributes an effective co-starring comic performance opposite Frankie Muniz.


...In the comedy Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), the reliable Colin Firth plays another reserved Brit as part of a romantic triangle involving Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant.


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