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Dennie Gordon
Amanda Bynes, Kelly Preston, Colin Firth, Eileen Atkins, Jonathan Pryce, Peter Reeves, James Greene
Writing Credits:
William Douglas-Home (play "The Reluctant Debutante"), Jenny Bicks, Elizabeth Chandler

Trying to fit in. Born to stand out.

Amanda Bynes (Big Fat Liar, The Amanda Show) stars as Daphne, an irrepressible American teen who impulsively jets over "the pond" to meet the aristocratic father (Colin Firth of Bridget Jones's Diary) she never knew. Determined to fit into dad's world, Daphne stifles her vibrant personality to be the perfect debutante while plunging into a whirl of garden parties, fashion shows and more. Can good intentions and proper etiquette conquer all? Not if that means Daphne must also abandon who she really is. She's going to remain true to herself. And she's doing it with the smarts and courage every girl wants to see. You go, girl!

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$11.434 million on 2964 screens.
Domestic Gross
$35.990 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $27.95
Release Date: 8/5/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director Dennie Gordon and Writers Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler
• Audio Commentary with Actor Amanda Bynes
• Additional Scenes
• “Fashion and Etiquette 101” Featurette
• “What’s a Girl to Wear?” Interactive Challenge
• Trailer

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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What A Girl Wants (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 10, 2003)

Since I’m not now, have never been, and – unless something really funky happens – never will be a teenage girl, I wasn’t sure if I’d find anything with which I could connect in 2003’s What a Girl Wants. Whereas the 2000 Mel Gibson flick What Women Want theoretically might give me some insight into the adult female psyche and thus aid me in my relationships with those mysterious beings, Girl seemed considerably less promising in that regard.

Girl focuses on 17-year-old Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes). She grew up in the Chinatown part of New York with her mother Libby (Kelly Preston). Libby met Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth) a couple of decades earlier and had a whirlwind romance that Lord Henry’s family disapproved of the free-spirited American Libby, and a nasty aide named Alistair Payne (Jonathan Pryce) split them in an underhanded manner.

Bitter about this, Libby never told Henry about his daughter, and Daphne grew up with a longing to know her dad. Daphne feels unsure about what to do with her life after high school, so she follows her heart and heads to England to make contact with her dad. When she arrives, she meets Ian Wallace (Oliver James), a charmingly scruffy hotel clerk who also plays guitar in a band. The two click.

In the meantime, Henry gives up his seat in the House of Lords and makes a run for the House of Commons instead. He’s engaged to Glynnis Payne (Anna Chancellor), the daughter of Alistair. She takes after her sneaky dad, as does Glynnis’ kid Clarissa (Christina Cole). All involved just want to make themselves as powerful and upwardly mobile as possible.

Into this situation literally crashes Daphne, who sneaks into Dashwood Manor. After a misunderstanding, she reveals her identity and comes to live with him. This inevitably causes friction with the others who attempt to sabotage Daphne’s relationship with Henry. We also see how hard it is for Daphne to adjust to stuffy English society and the effect this has on his political campaign.

What a Girl Wants seems destined to be remembered mostly due to some controversy over its poster art. The DVD’s cover image of Bynes originally showed her as she gave the peace sign, but since the movie came out during the US involvement in Iraq, the studio decided to alter the image to avoid any possibility of a political statement.

At least if they’d done a Dixie Chicks, there’d be something unusual about this flick. Without that possible scandal, unfortunately, Girl is nothing more than yet another take on Cinderella. No, it’s not a literal retelling, but it presents quite a lot of similarities and definitely falls into line with Cinderella thematically. Heck, the characters even refer to Cinderella at one point just so the slow-witted will get the connection!

Girl also provides the eight-millionth example of a story in which one character loosens up the others. Usually this comes along the lines of Bringing Down the House where we get a black person who teaches whitey how to get funky. However, Girl presents an acceptable variant in which a spunky American shows those stuffy and repressed Brits how to party.

Both formats seem equally predictable. If Girl presents an original thought or scenario, I can’t find it. Everything about this movie just reiterates elements seen elsewhere. It’s the same old entitlement fantasy depicted in many other flicks whereby the common girl gets to become a princess (or pretty close to it).

Is there anything about Girl that makes it different than The Princess Diaries or a million other similar flicks? Nope. If anything, it seems more one-dimensional than most of its brethren. Only Henry experiences a real character arc and shows some life. Daphne goes through changes as she attempts to fit in with the Brit society, but they’re artificial. By the end, she’s right back where she started. The character demonstrates no actual flaws at any point; she’s a perfect kid who only needs to be herself to get what she wants.

And what exactly does she want, and by association, what do girls want? I guess they all just want to have rich, powerful daddies who adore them. Oh, and they want cute, quirky boyfriends who treat them like the royalty they apparently are. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I think it’s interesting that fantasies with American girls seem to revolve around entitlement and being spoiled, while British girls apparently want to be as independent as possible, as demonstrated by flicks such as Bend It Like Beckham.

Both remain equally limp and predictable though; the Brits may have different goals, but the movies seem the same. Admittedly, I’m not part of the target audience for What A Girl Wants, so perhaps this means my opinion is less valid. Maybe if I was a 14-year-old girl I’d be inspired and delighted with it. But as a 36-year-old male, I find Girl to offer tepid, warmed-over, predictable and sentimental twaddle. We’ve seen it before, and we’ve seen it better.

Footnote: someone needs to ban movies and TV from using the Clash’s “London Calling” anymore. It seems like anytime a character heads to London, that song greets them. It’s bad enough these flicks and shows are robbing a great song of its original impact, but its ridiculous overuse threatens to turn it into the “Bad to the Bone” of the 21st century.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

What a Girl Wants appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film offered a nearly flawless transfer that looked simply splendid most of the time.

Sharpness seemed immaculate. The movie suffered from virtually no signs of softness, as it consistently appeared crisp and detailed. Even the widest shots still looked distinct and well rendered. I saw no issues connected to jagged edges or moiré effects, and only a smidgen of light edge enhancement ever appeared. As for print flaws, the movie displayed none. It remained clean and smooth at all times.

A teen fantasy like Girl merited a bubblegum palette, and the DVD replicated these tones amazingly well. The colors looked exceedingly bright and eye-popping, and they really leapt off the screen. From start to finish, the movie exhibited vivid and lively tones that seemed full and tight. Black levels were deep and rich, while low-light shots looked well developed and concise. Without the slight edge enhancement, this would be a virtually perfect image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of What a Girl Wants didn’t quite live up the amazing picture, but it fared quite well nonetheless. Although I didn’t expect a lot from the soundfield, it offered a surprisingly broad affair. The forward spectrum dominated, but not to a tremendous degree. In the forward speakers, we got a good sense of environment as well as fine stereo presence for the music. The surrounds usually kicked in reinforcement of those elements, but they came to life quite well when necessary. For example, a plane roared overhead impressively, and a thunderstorm kicked in some good atmosphere.

Audio quality also seemed positive. Speech came across as natural and distinctive. I noticed no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Though they usually remained a pretty modest part of the presentation, effects seemed accurate and concise, and I heard no problems with distortion. Music worked best, as the score and songs offered bright highs and rich lows. Overall, bass response was tight and deep. I wouldn’t use the soundtrack of What a Girl Wants to demo my system, but it seemed consistently satisfying.

For this DVD release of What a Girl Wants, we get a mix of supplements. The prime attractions come from two separate audio commentaries. The first presents actor Amanda Bynes who provides a running, screen-specific track. I expected a fluffy and silly track, and unfortunately, that’s what I got. At her best, Bynes lets us know some little bits of trivia from the set such as when stand-ins appear and when they had to loop lines. However, the actress mostly just makes remarks about how much she likes different elements or she narrates the film. Bynes seems to try her best and her energy occasionally adds some life to the proceedings, but this is an uninformative commentary.

In the second commentary, we hear from director Dennie Gordon and writers Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler. The writers sit together while Gordon works on her own, but all three offer running, screen-specific remarks. This track includes a little more information than the Bynes one, but not a lot. Actually, they cover a surprising amount of the same territory. The writers pop up fairly infrequently. They tell us a little about the differences between Girl and The Reluctant Debutante, the flick it remakes, but that’s about it. Gordon gets into more general production issues and fills out some of the basics. Unfortunately, she often just praises and thanks those involved and really doesn’t tell us all that much about the flick. The commentary seems mediocre.

Next we find three additional scenes. These last a total of only 98 seconds. These are too brief to add much, and not a one of them seems consequential in the least.

A quiz called What’s a Girl to Wear? shows up after this. You need to select the right combination of outfits to match what Daphne wore in the flick. You need to select three different components per ensemble and you must complete three full outfits to win. With each finished costume, you get a quick comment from costume designer Shay Cunliffe. Assemble all three and you watch a bland 95-second featurette that includes remarks from actors Bynes, Firth and James. It’s not worth the effort.

Fashion and Etiquette 101 runs eight and a half minutes as it covers those topics in regard to the flick. First we hear from costume designer Shay Cunliffe as she chats about the characters’ styles and what she wanted to do in that area. Etiquette instructor Maggie O’Farrill relates general concerns in that topic, and we see a running scorecard that tells us how the movie’s characters did. The costume stuff is pretty interesting, but the etiquette part seems less useful.

A few minor bits finish off the disc. We get the movie’s trailer as well as a Cast & Crew area. As with most WB DVDs, the latter just lists names and includes no actual information about the participants. Finally, an Easter Egg can be found in the “Special Features” menu. If you click on the headboard behind Bynes’ chair, you’ll find a 69-second clip with an audition for Peach and Pear.

If you can’t get enough of spunky American kids who teach snooty Brits how to lighten up, What A Girl Wants will entertain you. For the rest of us, it seems like a dull and uninspired dud. The movie presents virtually nothing original or creative, and it just comes across like the same old nonsense. The DVD features excellent picture plus surprisingly positive audio and a decent package of supplements. While the disc seems well executed, the movie itself remains bland and uninvolving. I can recommend it to already established fans, but others should skip it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1521 Stars Number of Votes: 46
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