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'What a Girl Wants'

'What a Girl' is a cute Cinderella story

Friday, April 04, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At a time when movie audiences crave comedies and family reunions have again become the stuff of wartime dreams, along comes "What a Girl Wants."

'What A Girls Wants'

RATING: PG for mild language

STARRING: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth

DIRECTOR: Dennie Gordon

WEB SITE: www2.whatagirlwants.com


Local movie showtimes

It's cute, lightweight, predictable fun for tweens and teens and their carpooling parents looking for a little comic escape from the real world. As a bonus, you get a lesson about how important it is to know and be yourself. And if you're out getting a Diet Coke refill the first time it's delivered, not to worry. The message will be repeated a couple of times before the corny but sweet fairytale ending.

The girl of the title is 17-year-old Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes), being raised by her singer-mother, Libby (Kelly Preston), in New York's Chinatown. While traveling in Morocco years ago, the bohemian Libby met and married an Englishman named Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), but they split before the uppercrust Brit realized he was going to be a father.

Every time Libby entertains and Daphne waitresses at a wedding, the teen watches the father-daughter dance with longing. Fresh out of high school, Daphne takes off (alone) for England and the estate of Lord Dashwood. He's now a politician with a very promising future; he's also engaged to a social climber with a teenager of her own.

Libby's arrival throws the sedate estate into turmoil. As she figures out a way to fit into Henry's life, she must contend with her father's conniving political adviser, his fiancee and her jealous daughter and, of course, the media. This Cinderella, however, is not without her allies in her paternal grandmother and a cute British boy (Oliver James).

And it's a Cinderella story, to be sure, complete with ball gowns, diamond tiaras and references to glass slippers. It's just that the prince doubles as dad, but not in a creepy way.

Loosely inspired by the 1958 romantic comedy "The Reluctant Debutante" with Sandra Dee, "What a Girl Wants" doesn't exactly reinvent any movie genre. It has one too many moments of Daphne dancing with abandon plus a shopping montage, de rigueur since "Pretty Woman."

But it scores points for using The Clash song "London Calling" and capitalizing on the fresh-scrubbed charm of Nickelodeon's Bynes. She has an all-American girl quality with big, expressive eyes and she's lucky to be working with an actor of Firth's caliber. He does the tongue-tied, befuddled aristocrat with the soul of a hippie quite well.

For girls whose dads are absent and not just living across the pond, they may watch this with the same pang experienced by Daphne. For the rest of us, it's a dandy diversion in a disconcerting time. Comic comfort food.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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