While admitting to being neither a giddy young girl nor a particularly stupid adult, this critic shall review What a Girl Wants as objectively as possible.
Accidental love-child Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes) has spent her 17 years thus far as a native New Yorker, holed up in Chinatown with her bohemian musician mother, Libby (Kelly Preston). Since the two make ends meet by working weddings together -- mother badly belting rock songs and daughter badly waitressing -- they live together in perfect harmony and exhibit absolutely none of the acute emotional turmoil commonly displayed in such relationships. Adding to the fantasy, lonely hippie Libby miraculously refrains from hourly bong hits and hasn't surrendered her exhausted body to a single caterer in the 17 long years she's been estranged from Daphne's father, an uncommonly hunky Englishman named Henry (Colin Firth), whom she married apparently astride a camel in a bogus ceremony in Morocco.
That's just the introduction, but obviously a quest for daddy and some unmitigated territorial conquest even less subtle than Gwyneth Paltrow's Brit posturing fill up the rest of the movie. With her mother's oblivious blessing and no attempt made to reclaim her, Daphne runs away from home, plugs Virgin airlines by name, and jets off to a bunch of cheesy montages of how neato England is. Instantaneously, she discovers the love of her life, a hostel-squatting guitarist named -- natch -- Ian (Oliver James), who gently awakens her repressed American consciousness with exotic British terms such as "loo." Mere seconds later, Daphne discovers via telly that her father is Lord Henry Dashwood, an esteemed MP on the fast track to becoming Prime Minister if Christopher Guest doesn't get there first. This leaves her no choice but to clamber clumsily -- tee-hee! -- over the wall of his estate and introduce herself as his daughter, allowing neither him nor us the slightest shred of suspense or dramatic tension.
What ensues is so obscenely obvious that I'm considering downing a couple of cans of Jolt to stay awake while telling you about it. You see, Lord Henry is -- oh God, yawwwn! -- beset by foul political manipulation via his busybody fiancée Glynnis Payne (Anna Chancellor), who teams up with her nasty daughter, Clarissa (Christina Cole), to try to give untouchable Daphne the bum's rush straight back across the pond. Those mean Brits! At the core of this dastardly scheme is Glynnis's father, Alistair Payne (Jonathan Pryce), who is as bad as bad can be, using his daughter's imminent nuptials to gain a family foothold in Parliament. With trouble like this brewing, what's a young American chick to do?
Why, dance around in hip-huggers and other trashy clothes to vapid pop-music expendables (title song curiously absent) to show those uptight Limeys what's what, that's what! (Checking notes to see how many times during the movie's duration I scrawled the word "shite." Grand total: 18, including the phase "Shite shite shitey-shite.") Until the movie's last couple of minutes -- which are mildly touching due to the relative rarity of loving, understanding familial units -- the whole mess is a nonstop idiot orgy of heinously narrated cutesy shenanigans designed to reveal that all those stuffy Brits really need is an ignorant teenager to show them how to make their country more fun.
Very sketchily based upon Vincente Minnelli's The Reluctant Debutante (minus the charm, plot, and characterization), this stunt could have worked, what with whip-smart producer Denise Di Novi (Heathers, Little Women) behind it. No such luck. Alleged screenwriters Jenny Bicks (Dawson's Creek) and Elizabeth Chandler (Someone Like You) toss off perhaps three amusing lines ("No hugs, dear," explains Eileen Atkins as Henry's doting mother. "I'm British. We only show affection to dogs and horses"), but alleged director Dennie Gordon (The Adventures of Joe Dirt) seems to think prolonged nonsensical slop is funny. It isn't, dearie. Back to film school.
Actually, this is one of the most depressing films in recent memory, but also one of the most offensive. First of all, whoever decided to exploit the Clash's "London Calling" for dipstick Daphne's British invasion deserves the full punishment of the punk pantheon (at least in Die Another Day it seemed ironic). Bynes herself mainly seems confused throughout, but her smug Chelsea Clintonesque acceptance to "Ox-ferrd" made my eardrums bleed -- and does she really expect us to like her character after she disses the Bee Gees? But the real disgust here is generated by Firth and Pryce, both fully embarrassing to behold as they cavort about like top-honor graduates of the Dan Aykroyd School of Never Saying No. Those Yankee dollars must seem pretty damned tempting.
God save the Queen. No, really.