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What A Girl Wants (PG)
Warner Brothers
Official Site
Director: Dennie Gordon
Producers: E.K. Gaylord II, Alison Greenspan, Casey La Scala
Written by: Jenny Bicks, Elizabeth Chandler
Cast: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Anna Chancellor, Eileen Atkins, Oliver James

Rating: out of 5

It’s been a happy life for the most part for musician Libby (Preston) and her 17-year-old daughter Daphne (Bynes). Living a bohemian life in NYC, the mother and daughter are chummy in their tight-knit two person family.

Except Daphne feels like part of her is missing and that part is her estranged father, Lord Henry Dashwood (Firth). You see, years before, Libby and Henry were separated by a misunderstanding, and Libby went back to America, pregnant and alone, while Henry stayed in England and inherited an aristocratic life of British politics.

Inspired by a father/daughter dance she sees while waitressing at a wedding, Daphne decides at the beginning of What a Girl Wants to leave home and surprise her noble father in England. She’s feeling the angst of being a recent high school graduate, so she sets off for London, leaving only a goodbye message on the answering machine for her mom.

Daddy’s deep in a political campaign though, and slightly taken aback by the fact that he even has a daughter. His menacing fiancée and her snotty daughter connive to ruin the daughter/father reunion to ensure that their places in high society don’t get one-upped by a silly American. But they don’t get very far, or rather, they don’t have to.

The paparazzi have a field day upon discovering that Henry’s newfound daughter, a free-spirited and beautiful young American, serves as excellent gossip fodder for the London elite. And fodder she is, as she traipses down runways in – gasp! – jeans instead of a ball gown and single-handedly turns a dull debutante ball into a rock ‘n’ roll fiesta. After all these innocent debacles, Lord Henry himself urges Daphne to change her personality a tad.

And after a string of coming-out balls and garden parties, Daphne is transformed into a stuffy, proper British belle, just like daddy ordered. 

In the end, however, Daphne realizes that trading her identity for a relationship with her father isn’t worth the effort. (But don’t worry – there’s a happy ending of course.)

This movie slightly resembles last year’s The Princess Diaries – but then again, most romantic comedies are creepily similar and originality isn’t usually their main selling strategy. However, Colin Firth is charming as the father and Kelly Preston can really belt out a song or two if need be – impressive on both fronts.

Although most adults sans children would not pay to see What a Girl Wants, any 12-year-old girl could easily fall in love with the coming-of-age storyline and hunky British accents. Amanda Bynes takes charge in her starring performance, and does justice to young actresses everywhere – that is, she expertly balances sweet, funny and clueless, and doesn’t tip over into cheesy that often. She serves up a nice plate of pre-teen fun and you can’t really ask for anything more out of a movie like this.

—Sandra M. Ogle


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