"First Daughter" Not as Predictable as You Might Think
- Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
- 2004 24 Sep
Release Date: September 24, 2004
Rating: PG (for language, sexual situations and alcohol-related material)
Run Time: I hr. 44 min.
Director: Forest Whitaker
Actors: Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie Rogers, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Michael Milhoan, Dwayne Adway
Katie Holmes joins Mandy Moore, Hilary Duff, Julia Stiles and Anne Hathaway in the latest version of “Cinderella,” this one aimed at ‘tweeners. Surprisingly, this time’s the charm – if not cinematically, then certainly morally.
Samantha MacKenzie (Holmes), the only child of U.S. President MacKenzie (Michael Keaton, in an unlikely and unremarkable performance), desperately wants to be “normal, like everyone else.” So when she goes off to school in California – to get away from all the press and pressure – she’s dismayed that nothing has changed, including her Secret Service agents. Not only that, but now she has to contend with politics from her fellow students, who try to pull her into the mix.
Samantha longs for her first love, which she finds with ultra-friendly dorm R.A. (resident advisor) James (Marc Blucas). James is not only smart and oh-so-handsome, but he also helps Samantha escape the clamoring paparazzi, giving her refuge in his room. Of course, his door remains open at all times – every parent’s dream – so the secret service can keep an eye on things.
Samantha’s roommate, Mia (Amerie Rogers) has mixed feelings about the first daughter, but introduces her to the college social scene – everything from pool parties to dancing on bars, drunk, while wearing a platinum wig and short, short skirt, after Sam’s romance with James disintegrates. Because – and I know this will come as a huge surprise – James has a little secret. And even though you might easily guess it, and the trailers make it obvious, and another recent film had the exact same plot, I’ll let you figure it out. Let’s just say that it causes a little hiccup between Samantha and James. Hence, the drunken evening – which is soundly rebuked, by the way, when Samantha feels ill and fails to impress him.
In the meantime, we’re treated to the dizzying fantasy of what it would be like to be rich, powerful and famous. While director Forest Whitaker makes sure to show us how awful that actually is (sure – we believe this), he also makes it look rather fun – especially when Samantha takes her friends to Washington for a glamorous black-tie affair. As Mia says, while receiving a pedicure and facial on Air Force One, “Oh, isn’t this country great?!”
It’s Cinderella, through and through, right down to the ball, the princes and the princesses, who all know how to waltz despite blue-collar backgrounds and who look like they’ve stepped from the pages of the fairy tale that inspired them. Unlike the terrible “Chasing Liberty,” however, which had Mandy Moore traipsing around nude and seducing her love-interest, “First Daughter” is chaste enough for ‘tweeners. Mia does take things a bit far at times. She’s promiscuous and loves to throw around innuendo, but her behavior is later referred to as “kissing boys” by Samantha and its true nature (never even alluded to) will no doubt pass right over the heads of the younger ones. She also settles down in the end, after realizing how unhappy her antics have made her.
Critics will enjoy blasting it, and “First Daughter” certainly isn’t going to win any awards. The characters, dialogue and plot are predictable and formulaic (one of the screenwriters also penned “Legally Blonde 2”), and nothing really stands out with the acting. Holmes is far better than expected, however, with a sort of Audrey Hepburn-like charm, and Blucas is not only adorable but noble – a real prince in my book. Keaton is sleep-walking, but he doesn’t have to do much more.
Far more significant, however, is the film’s message. First, it shows how decadent college can be – and how difficult it is to avoid morally-ambiguous, if not downright dangerous situations, when co-eds want a social life at college. Second, and much more importantly, “First Daughter” does something with the romantic genre that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen: it tells us that family and honor are way more important than our feelings. Yep – you heard me right; I’m in shock myself. In the end, the collective good – which is the very thing Samantha’s parents need and want for her – is espoused as not only the right thing, but also that which will bring Samantha and James the most happiness. For once in a Hollywood film, we see people listening to those parents and doing what is right – not whatever they want then trying to make it right. Is there some kind of award we can hand out for this? It’s incredibly rare in today’s feel-good postmodern culture, and it must be applauded.
Ultimately, this film is not as predictable as it might seem on the surface, which will be a welcome relief to parents who not only go to movies with their kids, but also enjoy talking with them about concepts like love, marriage, responsibility and duty.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Mild drinking in background at reception; one bar scene where character becomes inebriated, but is rebuked for behavior.
- Language/Profanity: A half-dozen mild profanities (“Oh my god”), one profanity (“Christsakes”) and one mild obscenity.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Implied sexual situation behind door, with character peaking out and telling her roommate to leave, but roommate later refers to behavior as “kissing,” same character is depicted as promiscuous because she “kisses” lots of boys, strikes occasional sexy pose and hits on several men using mild sexual innuendo; girls wear sexy clothing (short shorts, cleavage, bikinis) in several scenes; sexy dance (later referred to a strip-tease, but no clothing was removed) on bar which is later rebuked; man quickly changes shirt, revealing muscled torso; one chaste kiss, one romantic kiss
- Violence: Secret Service Agents use guns to attack would-be attacker who is revealed to be holding a watergun; car crashes into building entrance, implying possible kidnap, but character is whisked away to safety.