(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.
(Netflix Streaming, May 2015) It’s almost mind-boggling to me that there is such a thing as a firmly established sub-genre of teen comedies based on Shakespeare plays. In that context, She’s the Man isn’t much more than a wholly average entry, but it does have its moments. Based on Twelfth Night, it revolves around cross-dressing, as a frustrated soccer player finds no better plan than to pass herself off as a brother and take over his academic life. It’s an unlikely premise with a ludicrous execution, but it’s sporadically amusing: Amanda Bynes throws herself in her dual roles with gusto, ready to do just about anything to get a laugh. It doesn’t really matter that she’s never quite credible as a man; at some point, you just have to roll with the premise and accept that everyone else is convinced. Channing Tatum turns in an early comic performance as the romantic object of her affections. Must of the plot is based on comic misconceptions, misunderstandings, secret identities and such shenanigans –it all builds to a big spectacular public conclusion in which everything is explained to everyone’s relief. She’s the Man isn’t particularly witty, achieved or subtle, but it’s roughly the film it aimed to be, all slapstick and broad gags and updating Shakespeare to a modern context. Even a solid average in this Shakespeare-for-teens category makes for relatively enjoyable viewing.