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What a Girl Wants (2003)

I’m pretty set in my ways when it comes to “teen movies.”  Suffice it to say, I don’t want just anything because it’s for girls.  The movie I keep getting told is so amazing is the 2003 film What a Girl Wants, I have numerous friends who swear this is a fantastic movie and while perusing HBO the other night I figured I’d give it a watch.  It’s not that the movie’s bad, it’s just REALLY cliché, stereotypical, and a bit stupid at times (and this is from the same girl who loves New York Minute which came out a year later).  I can see it for what it was meant to be at the time, a vehicle to prove Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes had star power, but I don’t understand why girls my age are in love with this film?

Daphne Reynolds (Bynes) is a New York girl who desperately wants to meet her father she’s never known.  On her 17th birthday she goes to England to find him.  The problem is her father is Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth) who is set to be married and is running for Parliament.  Daphne is accepted into the family but everyone feels she’s too brash and embarrassing which causes Daphne to question whether she should change herself to please her father.

In the 2000s you had a string of father/daughter movies and a string of “princess” movies…What a Girl Wants takes elements from both.  Here Daphne dreams of finding her father, her “missing half,” and he just so happens to be Prince Charming!  The fact that the two have a few flirtatious dialogue exchanges makes their relationship borderline creepy, let’s just say Freud would have a field day with this film.  Most of the movies in these genres tried to focus on the girl finding herself after trying to change to fit the “princess” image…while still getting to be a princess at movies end.  These movies are highly unrealistic, no matter how fun they are!  I’d love it if my dad was a Prince or Prime Minister of some country…I guess that only happens if you don’t know your dad (or in the case of Mamma Mia, if your mom’s a slut).

Don’t get me wrong the movie has its fun moments, namely when Bynes is acting like a normal teenage girl.  There’s a slew of montages of her shopping, dancing, trying on clothes, and dancing while trying on clothes.  And there’s some fun chemistry and exchanges between her and her “evil stepsister” Clarissa played by Christina Cole (although it’s a far cry from her work on Hex in my opinion).  Bynes herself is competent in the role but there’s not much meat.  She never transcends the contrived plot like Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries.  Bynes just resorts to putting on cute, silly faces and that’s the extent of her acting.  You could tell her roles are more sidekick which is why she worked so well in Easy A.

The movie ultimately boils down to be “okay.”  I liked it, but I won’t watch it again.  So now that that’s out of the way let’s berate this film some more.  It falls back on tropes like “Americans are too brash and embarrassing for us Brits.”  From the minute Daphne arrives she’s condemned for being American.  She doesn’t dress right, she reacts appropriately when a guy sexually harasses her (those Brits are apparently so dignified they think date rape is just the means to a successful marriage match), and she’s just “odd.”  These movies pretty much say Brit have massive sticks up their ass and are old fashioned….so why then would Daphne want to be a part of this?  Oh right that dad thing!

The villains don’t help much in that arena, constantly trying to keep Daphne and Henry from bonding.  The problem lies in the plot contrivances…had ONE PERSON OPENED THEIR MOUTH everyone would be on the same page.  At one point Daphne’s soon-to-be stepmother Glynnis (Anna Chancellor) locks Daphne in a room and when she’s let out she doesn’t tell anyone what happened!  Daphne then gets pissed at Henry….because he didn’t hear her telepathic Bat Call or something.  Why didn’t she just say “I heard your harpy fiancée say she’s been scheming against me since birth and locked me in a room?”  Instead she lashes out at her father, I mean that’s typical teenage behavior sure but come on!

So What a Girl Wants is cliché, fluffy, and stupid but again I ate these movies up when they came out.  Maybe I should have seen this as a teenager and I would have understood.  Nah, probably not.  Also, does anyone know if this was the original title or were we simply trying to capitalize on the Christina Aguilera song?

Grade: C

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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