According to Cyndi Lauper, when the working day is done, girls just want to have fun. I imagine they want more than just that, starting with not being called girls after they reach a certain age. Yet, Hollywood seems to think differently, at least in terms of the sort of movies it makes for them.
Although there are always exceptions in various genres, the studios apparently seem to think that all girls (or women) really want are predictable romantic comedies or Cinderella type stories that don't stray too far from the formula and always have the happy ending.
"What a Girl Wants" is the latest such film of the latter category. As written by Jenny Bicks (HBO's "Sex and the City") and Elizabeth Chandler ("Someone Like You," "A Little Princess) and directed by Dennie Gordon ("Joe Dirt"), the plot - "inspired" by the 1958 Rex Harrison/Sandra Dee comedy, "The Reluctant Debutante" - is just a modified retelling of Cinderella.
Sure, the names have been changed (to protect the innocent or at least avoid lawsuits), but it has the heart and core of that classic tale. This time, however, the protagonist is a spunky NY teen with a bohemian mom whose prince turns out to be the father she's never met. Okay, it's really a dual prince story since that has sort of an icky incestuous feel to it (thus, there's also a young man as the love interest).
Filling out the necessary Cinderella elements is the evil stepmother-to-be and her nasty and equally underhanded daughter, while the protagonist's biological mother somewhat serves as the helpful Fairy Godmother character.
With that setup, it isn't hard to see that the film will be about as predictable as they come, or that from the moment you lay eyes on them, you'll know what will become of each and every character. Few will likely be surprised that those characters will also be involved in various musical montages including the obligatory trying on clothes sequence.
All of that appears to be the regulation and/or charm of such films (as well as romantic comedies) in that the targeted viewers seem to love, desire and/or find comfort in such familiarity, repetitiveness and predictability.
Granted, the film and its pretty star - the charming and easy on the eyes Amanda Bynes ("Big Fat Liar," TV's "All That") - are cute and certainly won't tax one's higher level of mental functioning. Yet, it must be the lack of estrogen flowing through my blood that prevents me from emitting that gushing "awww" sound over these offerings.
In following the formula and plot to a T, the filmmakers take no chances, but also don't allow for much imagination or creativity, let alone surprises. That is, except for delivering a host of convenient developments and appearances - that should have those involved playing the lottery due to the long odds involved - as well as various instances of unrealistic behavior. Yes, I'm picking on an easy target, but why can't the purveyors of such pablum do something special or at least different with the material?
Aside from Anna Chancellor ("Crush," "The Man Who Knew Too Little") and Christina Cole (making her feature film debut) who are nothing more than purposefully annoying caricatures, the rest of the performances are okay, if not exactly realistic or engaging. As the young protagonist, Bynes has an easygoing demeanor about her that makes her fairly enjoyable to watch, even if her character is as contrived as the rest of the film.
Colin Firth ("Bridget Jones's Diary," "Shakespeare in Love") predictably lets his hair down, so to speak, upon the arrival of his daughter, while Kelly Preston ("View From the Top," "For Love of the Game") is okay as his one-time wife and wisdom speaking mother to the protagonist.
Oliver James (making his debut) plays the young love interest and part-time singer who repeatedly manages to get gigs at the best events in town, while Jonathan Pryce ("Bride of the Wind," "Stigmata") embodies the Lord's longtime assistant. Like everyone else, they go through the motions and follow the prescribed route without any unnecessary flourishes.
I guess my biggest problem is that everything about the film feels artificial, contrived and formulaic to the point that it robs the effort of its spirit or any sense of fun, magic or originality. While the target audience will probably love it - as will the studio since it will probably make back its investment and then some - everyone else will likely view this as lukewarm, reheated Cinderella leftovers. Not horrible, but lacking in pretty much anything to make it memorable, "What A Girl Wants" rates as a mediocre 4.5 out of 10.