It speaks volumes about the quality of this film and of my own puerile nature that the biggest laugh was to be had from the name of the production company responsible for this abortion: Gaylord Productions.
As for the film itself, it’s a tragic waste of time and effort. A loose retelling of Cinderella that’s adapted from a stage play (The Reluctant Debutante), unbelievably as it means someone saw this uninspired nonsense and decided it’d make a spiffing film. It doesn’t, in spades. It opens with a charming tale of Libby Reynolds (Kelly Preston), an American singer heading off to some Arabian country, falling in love with Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth). They get married in a non-legally binding Bedouin marriage ceremony and return to England, where Henry has to take over the Lordly duties after the death of his father. A mildly nefarious scheme by the Machiavellian advisor to the Lord, Alistair Payne (Jonathan Pryce, who deserves better) sends Libby packing back stateside while he feeds a line to Henry saying that there was someone else. In magic cliche fairysville, the fictional alternate universe where this travesty unfolds, this is enough to dissuade Libby from ever making contact again with the one man she’s truly loved, even after she has his bloody kid. This is nonsense. In fact, every concept in this movie is nonsense so If you could fill that phrase in after ever sentence it’ll save wear and tear on my keyboard.
Seventeen years pass, and the bastard child grows into a strapping young filly named Daphne (Amanda Bynes), a spunky, slightly ditzy lass that values her individuality as with so many of her ilk. having grown up with only a picture of her father for reference, she decides to take a voyage of discovery to London to meet her father.
In magic cliche fairysville, London is the same London represented in Mary Poppins. Cockerney wideboys roam the streets speaking mysteriously of ‘dogs and bones’ and ‘apples and pears’ in a quaint yet unlikely fashion. Strangely Lord Henry’s stately home seems to be in an enclosed estate somewhere next to the house of parliament or perhaps in magic cliche fairysville convenient wormholes transport people about with no regard for timeframes and distances. She breaks into her daddy’s home to avoid the random policeman who guards their gate for some undefined reason and gives a charming little speech reducing to ‘Surprise, I’m your kid!’. This affords Colin Firth the opportunity to stammer, as he’ll do frequently and consistently for the length of the film.
This comes as a shock not only to poor Henry, but also to Alistair Payne who’s busy grooming Henry as the next big political thing for the upcoming election, representing what’s mysteriously referred to as ‘The Party’. He’s also manoeuvred his daughter Glynnis Payne into the coveted position of Henry’s fiancee, and she and daughter Clarissa take offence at Daphne’s presence in their own stuck-up, prissy ways smacking of upper-class cliche; all pomp and no circumstance. The only welcoming face apart from the shell-shocked Henry, who’s still on autostammer at this point, is Jocelyn Dashwood (Eileen Atkins), Henry’s mother. She’s marginally less stuck-up and concerned with keeping up appearances, and seemingly the only character with even a peripheral self awareness of the walking stereotypes around her (witness the slightly ironic “‘No hugging dear, we’re British” line). Once Henry recovers enough to string a sentence together he insists Daphne stays.
Parallel to all this nonsense Daphne hooks up with young cockerney wideboy Ian Wallace (Oliver James, thankfully not Jamie Oliver), a sensitive, singer type with a variety of jobs allowing him to conveniently appear at any social event Daphne is attending. High society ball? He’s on singing duty. Henley Regatta? He’s wandering about in one of those stylish yellow reflective jackets, presumably as the world’s scrawniest bouncer. He serves two equally redundant functions, allowing Colin Firth to stammer some more as he worries over the type of boy that his daughter is attracting and also to chart his disapproval of Daphne’s attempts to change her personality to fit into an alien culture. Blah, and indeed blah.
More irritations are thrown in our general direction, like a chimp throwing it’s own faeces in a low-rent zoo. The arrival of the pretty young Daphne on the socialite scene causes quite a stir among the little Lord Fauntleroy’s of the knobs. One particularly loathsome walking cliche that Clarissa had her beady little eye on takes a fancy to Daphne, subjecting us to an embarrassingly bad performance of the ego-inflated nonce wooing the disinterested Daphne only to be thrown in a river, the only tragedy being he didn’t drown. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that any of this is funny. It’s insulting. Not only does it have the temerity to hurl stereotype after stereotype at us it doesn’t even go to the bother of supplying us with any jokes, or even linking it’s stereotypes together in a way we haven’t seen before.
The supposedly hilarious scrapes Daphne gets into are signposted in eight foot high neon letters, their startling obviousness sapping any possible comedy mileage to be had from this particularly battered vehicle. There was a fair amount of laughter coming from theOneliner corner of the multiplex in this particular screening, but unfortunately it’s a case of laughing at rather than with the film. In the absence of any jokes from the movie we made up our own, and at least it kept us amused as the drivel onscreen certainly didn’t.
Of particular note and cause for derision was the inclusion of some Royal impersonators to play Prince William, Charles, The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen and so forth. One of the primary considerations for employing look-alikes would presumably to have them look something alike the person they intend to represent. On the basis of the specimens present in What A Girl Wants I’d make an excellent candidate for a Brad Pitt look-alike, as I bear as little resemblance to him as the clowns here do to their respective royalty.
If ever there was solid evidence to shut down IMDB‘s user comments section then it’s the daft bat that called the ending to this ‘realistic’. It is perhaps realistic in magic cliche fairysville or whichever rocky sphere orbiting a distant sun she happens to exist on, but it’s an utterly daft and unrealistic ending for anyone on Earth, one so dripping of formulaic cheese it ought to be sponsored by Dairylee. Libby Reynolds shows up at the films end, for some reason, and Henry realises that all he wants is his family, resigning his candidacy. As ‘The Party’ doesn’t seem to have a name I doubt it’ll miss a candidate. The evil Payne family get their comeuppance as an afterthought.
I feel a little sorry for Amanda Bynes, as despite a grossly insulting and hackneyed role she retains some charm throughout, and it’s only through her occasional glimmers of energy that this remains vaguely tolerable. Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce both deserve far, far better than this rubbish and Colin Firth deserves some kind of role that doesn’t reduce to a poor man’s Hugh Grant. He has some talent, but as long as he remains buried in second-string posh dithering Englishman roles he’s going to quickly become unemployable.
This is a comedy that isn’t funny, a drama that isn’t dramatic, a film that isn’t worthy of your cash. It will no doubt have the excuse that it’s intended for kids so it doesn’t matter what I make of it, but I beg to differ. Kids deserve better. I’d like to credit the younger generations with some modicum of intelligence, and some modicum of taste. If they have, they’re not going to enjoy this. And if they don’t find this insulting they should be made to watch this over and over until they understand exactly what an uninspired and creatively bankrupt example of cinema this is.