What a Girl Wants

2003, PG, 100 min. Directed by Dennie Gordon. Starring Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Tom Harper, Anna Chancellor, Jonathan Pryce, Eileen Atkins, Oliver James.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 4, 2003

Cut from the same chirpy cloth as Melissa Joan Hart, Amanda Bynes appears to be following the career path of her fellow Nickelodeon graduate: a huge following with the preteen audience built at "the only network for kids!" (Hart's Clarissa Explains It All, Bynes' The Amanda Show), further expansion of the fan base with a move over to prime-time family sitcom (ABC's Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the WB's What I Like About You, respectively), and then finally – what, world domination? Maybe later. Instead, matriculation to cotton-candy comedies on the big screen and only very small tweaks in the personas both actresses established early at Nick and held onto forevermore after. Less an actress than a cheerleader, Bynes is like Hart's more earnest little sister (and who would have thunk Hart's, um, dry wit would be cause for nostalgia?); but the girl's got charisma, and that's all Bynes needs to breeze through this girl-power-lite tale of a high school senior trying to find her dad and, in the process, find herself. Front and center in almost every frame of the film, Bynes plays Daphne Reynolds, daughter of the still-boho-after-all-these-years Libby (Preston), who split from Daphne's British dad (Bridget Jones's Diary's Colin Firth) before he even knew Libby was pregnant. Seventeen years later, Daphne is convinced her inability to commit to college plans are the result of not knowing her pops, so off she goes to London to track down the father she never knew. Conveniently enough, dad turns out to be Lord Dashwood, with a seat in Parliament and a sprawling estate; not so conveniently, he's about to marry the money-grubbing Glynnis (Chancellor) and become stepfather to her snotty, blue-blooded daughter. Complications ensue, of course: Even though dad takes a shine to her, the rest of the gang just wants Daphne gone, and when Daphne's free-spirited American ways threaten her father's political aspirations, she is forced to tone it down, become something less than herself. That's about it for dramatic tension, but the lesson learned here – be yourself, no matter what – though simplistic is right on for the target audience of 11-year-old girls. I can't imagine why anyone not escorting an 11-year-old girl would actively want to sit through What a Girl Wants – it's too canned, too tame – but the thing has a sweetness to it that dips into cloying only once in a while. Instantly forgettable but good-natured all the same, Bynes' first starring vehicle is probably exactly what preadolescent girls want, and there's really no harm in giving it to them. As for this slightly older girl, I got something I wanted, too: British hottie Colin Firth – Mr. Darcy, now and forever – goofily rocking out in skin-tight leather pants. Please and thank you.

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What a Girl Wants, Dennie Gordon, Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Tom Harper, Anna Chancellor, Jonathan Pryce, Eileen Atkins, Oliver James

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