I’ve been a huge Colin Firth fan ever since I saw him in the BBC miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice back in the mid-1990s. I thought he was absolutely perfect as Mr. Darcy, and I haven’t been able to picture anyone else in that role since then. Now, I try to watch every Colin Firth film I can get my hands on, even when the plot synopsis alone makes it sound like I should just stay away. That’s what happened with 2003’s What a Girl Wants: This was a movie I wouldn’t ordinarily watch, but I did so in the hopes that Firth would be enough to save it. He wasn’t.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Amanda Bynes stars as a 17-year-old girl named Daphne Reynolds. At the beginning of the film, we get several scenes of Daphne’s birthday parties as she was growing up. In each one, she made the exact same wish before blowing out the candles: that someday her father would be there to share the moment with her. Although she has been happy enough with her mother Libby (played by Kelly Preston), Daphne is determined to find her father and get to know him beyond the fairy tales that her mother has been telling her all her life. Once Daphne learns that his name is Henry Dashwood (Firth) and he lives in London, she leaves a note for her mom and hops on a plane to track him down.
It turns out that finding Henry Dashwood is easier than Daphne ever could have expected. That’s because his full title is Lord Henry Dashwood, and he’s a politician who’s making a name for himself by giving up his hereditary seat in the House of Lords in order to run for a seat in the House of Commons. He’s basically a very wealthy man from an established family, but whose sympathies lie with regular, everyday folks.
That probably explains why he decides to sit down and talk to Daphne after he catches her trying to break into his mansion instead of immediately calling the police (or should I say “bobbies”?). Daphne comes right out and tells Henry that she’s his daughter, and again, he immediately takes her word for it. The trouble is, Henry’s in the middle of an election and news of an illegitimate daughter would cause quite a scandal. His political advisor and his current squeeze Glynnis Payne (Anna Chancellor) want to keep the whole thing under wraps and would like Henry to just send the girl on her way, but Henry absolutely refuses.
So Daphne stays on in England and tries to become part of her father’s life. Glynnis remains an obstacle, as does her daughter Clarissa (Christina Cole), but there’s never a doubt that Daphne’s down-to-earth, honest, and open personality will win out in the end.
My Reaction: It’s hard for me to review a movie like this because it was so clearly made for the preteen demographic and I can’t really tell how effective it was in getting through to the target audience. From my own adult perspective, however, I can unequivocally say that What a Girl Wants is just another uninspired fish-out-of-water flick with a teenage lead. In many respects, it reminded me of The Princess Diaries — which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Why is it that filmmakers believe American teens have no respect for tradition and can’t handle themselves in formal situations? How hard is it to make it through a black-tie affair without causing a scene at the dinner table or, I don’t know, indirectly causing a valuable chandelier to come crashing to the floor?
There were no pleasant surprises in this film, no nice touches that served to let viewers know that this teen movie was somehow different than the rest. I felt a total “been there, done that” vibe from start to finish and couldn’t bring myself to get involved with the characters at all.
I have no idea why Colin Firth agreed to take this role… maybe he was under contract with Warner Bros. at the time and had to do this project for them? I don’t know, but I think that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself from now on!
Overall, I give What a Girl Wants 2 stars out of 5. I think only girls under the age of 13 would like this one, so if you don’t fall into that category, you’d be better off skipping this film!