Urban Cinefile
"Why have an eight-year-old play an eight-year-old when we can have an actor of Tom's calibre, with all his years of experience, interpret the part? "  -- director Robert Zemeckis on using Tom Hanks play the boy as well as the guard in The Polar Express.
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Free-spirited American 17-year-old Daphne (Amanda Bynes) has always dreamt of meeting her English father. Leaving her mother Libby (Kelly Preston), Daphne arrives on the doorstep of Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), a prominent English peer and politician who has been unaware of his daughter's existence until now. Attempting to fit in with the social customs required of an aristocrat's daughter during the coming out season, Daphne faces stern opposition from Henry's socially ambitious fiancee Glynnis (Anna Chancellor) and her jealous daughter Clarissa (Christine Cole). Her budding romance with aspiring singer Ian (Oliver James) also suffers as Daphne comes to terms with the differences between her dreams and the reality of life in her father's world. 

Review by Richard Kuipers:
This remake of the 1958 Sandra Dee-Rex Harrison starrer, The Reluctant Debutante, is pure fairy floss and not to be confused with anything remotely connected with the real world. What A Girl Wants could be subtitled 'What A Scriptwriter Wants': problems are quickly resolved, most of the characters are mothballed caricatures from yesteryear and convenient plot twists reign supreme. Directed by Dennie Gordon, whose TV credits include Ally McBeal and Dawson's Creek, this fairy tale at least features a mostly sparky cast who make the most of the musty material. 

Children's TV host Amanda Bynes might even be too sparky for audiences outside the teen girl target demographic. Her boundless enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder are irritating at times but she does have charming qualities that deserve a chance in a better showcase. Colin Firth sleepwalks through his role as the befuddled father but he's so handsome it hardly matters. Faring better are Anna Cancellor ('Duck Face' from Four Weddings and a Funeral) who injects plenty of ham into her socially ambitious character, a reptilian Jonathan Pryce as her scheming father and veteran Eileen Atkins who dashes out some of the funniest lines as Firth's mother - 'we're English, we only show affection to dogs and horses,' she tells her American grand-daughter. 

A couple of amusing physical gags and a few smart jabs aimed at the British class system bring smiles, though not enough to raise proceedings above the mediocre. The humour is too broad and forced as Daphne creates havoc on the English social scene and the sentiment is mushy while she's being romanced by singer/hostel receptionist/car park attendant Ian, who is played uncharismatically by Oliver James. Filmed at the well-appointed estate of the real Lord Dashwood (one of his ancestors founded the Hellfire Gentleman's Club of Victorian England), What A Girl Wants is a forgettable fish-out-of-water story that tries too hard to be cute and isn't convincing when it attempts to inject modern social issues into its soft-focus fantasy scenario. Like far too many films being force-fed into multiplex cinemas these days, What A Girl Wants is an adequate TV attraction but it's not much chop on the big screen.

Special Features reviewed by Shannon J. Harvey: 
Appropriately spritely features complement a DVD that will appeal mostly to teen and pre-teen girls here. There are two commentaries, one with hot young star Amanda Bynes and the other with director Dennie Gordon and her two scriptwriters. Viewers will discover that Bynes is, like, wow, so cool - especially in the opening credits of her commentary where everything is "ooh", "ahh", "oh" and "yay!" The eternally effervescent and perpetually perky (not to mention now filthy rich) entertainer describes everything and everyone as "cute, gorgeous, sweet and lovely." There's really nothing in-depth about her cutesy commentary, but I guess it is suited to its
audience. Her director's commentary, however, is not much better. Gordon and the writers are full of praise, especially for Bynes, who they describe as possessing Lucille Ball's knack for physical comedy. Now that's ambitious.

Find out about the unchoreographed father/daughter dance sequence and how the remake went through many script changes. Fashion Etiquette 101 consists of two equally fluffy features. In Fashion, costume designer Shay Cunliffe explains how accessories, fabrics and textiles can enhance character and make or break a scene. She gives her philosophy on the blazer, shows you how to tie a sari around jeans and pontificates on ball gowns. In Etiquette, a manners' expert explains some of the faux pas of cross-cultural etiquette, such a slurping cereal or slouching. It ends with the expert grading examples from the film as good or bad. Lastly, there are three short additional scenes, the trailer and a list of major cast and crew. It's appropriately fluffy stuff for such a sweet girly film.

Published October 9, 2003

Email this article



CAST: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Anna Chancellor, Tom Harper, Jonathan Pryce, Eileen Atkins

DIRECTOR: Dennie Gordon

SCRIPT: Jenny Bicks, Elizabeth Chandler (William Douglas Home, play & 1958 screenplay)

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1 16:9 Enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Amanda Bynes, Commentary with director Dennie Gordon and Screenwriters Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler, Fashion Etiquette 101, Additional Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, Cast and Crew

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: October 8, 2003

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020