Lowdown: A 17 year old American girl gets in touch with her aristocrat English father.
According to the stuff that passes for information in tabloid media, some 10% of all internet passwords are “princess”. I can only testify for myself and say that “princess” has never been a favorite password of mine, nor do I suspect it would ever be. I will add, though, that this supposed 10% market share is the exact market segment the film What A Girl Wants (2003) is aiming at.
For all intents and purposes, What A Girl Wants is a contemporary version of the good old Cinderella story. Amanda Bynes is the seventeen year old daughter of a cool American rock & roller who is not too famous but is gladly making ends meet at New York’s Chinatown (Kelly Preston). She is also the daughter of an English aristocrat with claims to the English throne and high political aspirations (Colin Firth). Trouble is, while Bynes’ parents met on a Moroccan adventure and fell in love, Firth’s advisors did not like the threat Preston posed to their master’s status so they got rid of her. As a result, Bynes never got to know her father.
Until, that is, she finally puts her backpack on, catches the nearest plane, and flies over to London to break into her father’s castle and meet him face to face. What follows is the story of how the two get together, how Bynes fights off the threat of the evil stepsister and how Bynes finds her prince charming.
The trouble with What A Girl Wants is that it’s a pretty bad film. Sure, it won’t bore you, and you might even smile from time to time; but the amount of clichés on display is nothing short of amazing. Top of the pops in the cliché ladder is the “Americans are cool rock & rollers” stereotype versus the “the English are so stuck up to their old aristocracy and class system” stereotype, which allows Bynes to barge in on the British party and show them old English fools how cool she/they could be if only they could act like a proper American. For example, Bynes never gets off her double-decker bus when it stops at a station; she always jumps off it on a street corner.
The puzzling thing about this very gross use of stereotyping is the way it exposes the hypocrisy behind What A Girl Wants: if the English love affair with aristocracy is so uncool then why is it that Americans bothered making a film about it? Why is it that so many girls really do dream of being princesses? There has to be some sort of a deficiency with their own societies that causes them to try and make up Prince Charmings in their dreams. The kingdom of rock & roll is not as cool as it may seem.
Clichés, predictability and an overall miserable plot aside, the next problem that hits you with What A Girl Wants is the acting. Or rather, lack of. Sure, Firth provides the film with some moments of genuine acting; but between Bynes and the rest of the girls and the boys, “acting” is not the verb you would use to describe what took place in the shooting of the film.
It's a bit of a pity the film avoids discussing the question of why Bynes' character is so interested in finding her father in the first place. As things come out, What A Girl Wants is not a film to confront serious questions in the face; instead it's yet another American production reeking of old fashioned conservative values hiding beneath the shroud of being young and cool. It doesn't deal with what girls want, it's more to do with its version of what girls need. If the film really wanted to show us young, cool and modern they could have come with a love story that dispensed with kissing authority’s ass. You know, the love stories that each and every one of us took and takes part in during our lives.
Worst scenes: Why is it that the filmmakers had to throw in at least 36 double-decker busses into the frame on every scene that's supposed to depict London ?
Overall: What the hell is Firth, a quality actor, doing in a film like this? I don’t know, but because of him I’ll be generous and give What A Girl Wants 2 out of 5 stars.