What A Girl Wants

When a sprightly American teen brings her Avril-esque cute-punk girl power to the formal balls and regattas of English aristocrats, upper lips stiffen, chandeliers shatter, noses ascend to the heavens, and at least one blueblood winds up soaking in the Thames. Another in a long line of innocuous Cinderella fantasies for pre-teen girls, What A Girl Wants scores easy points off the snooty Brit of the pop imagination, perhaps the most obvious international foil this side of snooty Parisians. Playing strictly by the numbers, the heroine introduces midriffs and low-cut jeans to the Royal Dress Show, sparks a "hopping" rendition of James Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing" at a debutante's coming-out party, and shares a box of Coco Pops with a Parliament member. But as the vulgar, free-spirited Yankee removes some of the starch from these stuffed shirts, she gets a full Royal makeover in return, adding a measure of class and refinement that would be impossible in a country without ties to the throne. The basic premise–independent-minded 15-year-old misfit discovers her noble roots, cracks a few monocles, and eventually fits into the glass slippers–mimics Garry Marshall's The Princess Diaries, itself a girlified retread of Marshall's Pretty Woman. But in place of Princess' delightful Anne Hathaway, What A Girl Wants offers Nickelodeon's Amanda Bynes, a generically spunky Gap girl who slips all-too-snugly into the formula. As the film opens, Bynes occupies a tiny Chinatown apartment with single mother Kelly Preston, a former flower child who once fell in love with dashing Lord Colin Firth in the Moroccan desert, but was rejected by his arrogant family and colleagues back in England. When she finds out about her real father, Bynes travels overseas for a reunion, but with Firth in the midst of a heated political campaign, news of his illegitimate child proves potentially scandalous, leaving his snaky advisor (Jonathan Pryce), brittle fiancée, and future stepdaughter to plot against her. What A Girl Wants was once titled London Calling, which perfectly accounts for its cake-and-eat-it-too attitude: Part Christina Aguilera, part Clash, Bynes wants to be a punk princess, a conforming non-conformist who tries to match thrift-store threads with a diamond tiara. It's a tame, hypocritical fantasy, especially when the film's idea of non-conformity extends no further than temporary tattoos, sugar cereals, and shopping in the open market. Is this what a one-girl revolution looks like?

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