What a Girl Wants (2003)

(On TV, August 2015) Amanda Bynes may now be best-known as a cautionary tale about the hazards of undiagnosed mental health issues, but she had a few good years as a gifted comedy actress, and What a Girl Wants is a good showcase for what she was capable of doing.  The preposterous premise has Bynes as the daughter of an earthy American mother and a respectable member of the British establishment.  When she, as a young cool American girl, tries to reconnect with her estranged father in the middle of his political ascension, various wacky hijinks ensue.  What a Girl Wants is, obviously, aimed at the tweenager set: most of the comic set-pieces involve British aristocrats gawking speechless at the antics of our unrefined protagonist.  As I grow older, I find that I have less and less tolerance for the unexamined assumption that high-class refinement is inherently stultifying, that it always needs shaking up by younger-cooler-brasher protagonists: manners exist for a reason, and wouldn’t it be fun to see a film argue in favor of that at some point… (Oh, hey, Kingsmen.)  But that’s not What a Girl Wants is built to do, so it may be more helpful to focus on the success of Bynes’ antics, the fact that Colin First couldn’t possibly be any Colin-Firthier than he is here as an idealized father figure, and enjoy the various comic set-pieces in the spirit in which they were executed.  Predictable but executed competently, What a Girl Wants delivers what it was aiming for, and should please most of its intended audience… delivering what they want. 

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