Review :: 'What a Girl Wants'

"What A Girl Wants" is not just a rip-off of 2001's "The Princess Diaries," it's also a rip-off of the 1958 film "The Reluctant Debutante."

In the first, a free-spirited American teenager, brought up by her American mother, suddenly finds out her late father was an aristocrat. In the earlier Rex Harrison/Sandra Dee film, a free-spirited American teenager, brought up by her American mother, suddenly decides to meet her living, aristocratic father and turn society on its ear.

But, more than anything, the story is one of those laboratory concoctions in which you can tell the conclusion from the opening scene. Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes) longs to meet the father she has never known. The father turns out to be Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), who fell in love with her rock 'n' roll-singing mother, Libby (Kelly Preston), 17 years ago. That was before he gave up his motorcycle to become a stuffy British politician.

But his family, finding Libby less than acceptable, told each of them lies in order to end the relationship. So guess who is going to clear up those misunderstandings and bring them back together?

The talented cast -- an impressive mix of new faces and old pros -- valiantly swims in a sea of cliches about evil stepmothers, rich and royally-connected daddies, and true love that waits, untouched, for the right spark to send it into flame after decades of neglect.

Newcomer Oliver James brings charm and an affecting singing voice to Ian, Daphne's British boyfriend and aspiring musician. Firth, who played heartthrob Mark Darcy in "Bridget Jones's Diary," plays yet another volcanic heart poised to erupt under a crusty exterior. And it's certainly possible that Bynes' fans, who adore her from Nickelodeon's "The Amanda Show," won't mind the silliness of her character here.

Movie

What a Girl Wants **

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This rip-off of 2001's charming "The Princess Diaries" concerns an American gal (Amanda Bynes) who treks to England to bond with her uptight aristocratic father (Colin Firth). Typical fish-out-of-water mishaps occur. The result is a cheerful, non-threatening comedy for the Avril Lavigne crowd.

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Bynes does offer some touching moments as she gazes at other girls doing what she can't -- being escorted by their fathers in a father-daughter dance. But Daphne's character is so lacking in substance that it's unintentionally comical when she comes to the big conclusion that she must be herself -- especially when all that seems to mean is wearing jeans and purple nail polish instead of a ball gown at a dressy event.

"What A Girl Wants" is also one of those movies in which no one bothers with real-life minutiae, such as where does a presumably penniless teenager get the money to fly to London and stay in hotels? And how do all those unwrinkled outfits fit into that smart little handbag, which is all we ever see her carrying? Did she get the bag in the same shop that Mary Poppins got hers?

Of course, "Mary Poppins" seemed a lot more believable than this.

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