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What a Girl Wants

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
What a Girl Wants

from Film Forum, 04/10/03

Although the story in What a Girl Wants closely parallels that of last year's family favorite The Princess Diaries, the movie is actually a remake of The Reluctant Debutante (1958). Religious press critics are giving the movie some high marks, but they disagree on whether it's a better film than Diaries.

Loren Eaton (Focus on the Family) says, "Fortunately, What a Girl Wants [is] sweet without being treacly. Its characters are engaging, but reasonably realistic. And while most viewers will have the entire plot nailed within the first five minutes … the director and cast make it so much fun that you won't likely care. I certainly didn't."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Its strong moral message reinforces the important role a parent plays in a child's life and the sometimes courageous sacrifices demanded of a parent's love. As such, some parents may feel the film is fine for their pre-teens as well."

Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight) says, "Yeah, it's a chick flick. I'll admit it, I liked it. It is so rare to find films for the MTV generation that are not saturated with offensive material. What a Girl Wants is for the most part a touching story that is almost on par with The Princess Diaries and A Walk to Remember."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "This is obviously an old fashioned fairy tale with a modern day twist, but it confirms one thing that is timeless: how important it is for children to have both parents in their lives. The message about being true to yourself and taking pride in who you are without trying to be something you're not is also important. This movie takes a stand against conformity with a positive and uplifting message to give to the younger generation."

Alan Boyer (Preview) says it "positively portrays the bonds between parents and children and the sacrifices of family love, and it has few offensive elements."

Movieguide's reviewer describes it as "a sometimes funny, zany, tender movie. It strikes a chord as it speaks to the heart of one thing that every daughter truly wants and needs— a caring father who puts her first." But how does it compare to The Princess Diaries? "The message in What a Girl Wants is not as positive because of its mixed nature. Whereas Princess Diaries shows how duty, honor, family, patriotism, and individual freedom may be reconciled, this movie does not. Although it lauds family, fatherhood, parental love, and unselfishness, it also attacks duty and tradition."

In contrast, Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) lists three ways in which the movie improves upon Princess Diaries, but then lists other ways in which the film is flawed. "The movie seems to view casual dress and behavior as a mark of authenticity and integrity, while breeding and politesse are viewed as suspect if not outright hypocritical."

Michael Medved (Crosswalk) disagrees, preferring The Princess Diaries. "This formulaic new offering makes an utterly shameless attempt to recycle the box office appeal of that vastly superior commercial hit from two years ago. There's no sense of warmth or substance beneath the surface, which means that it makes no sense at all when all of Britain is supposed to fall in love with her earthy energy." But he concludes that the movie "respects the family audience enough to avoid obnoxious intrusions in the general atmosphere of forced and treacly sweetness, so it remains mostly enjoyable to watch."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) calls it "a mildly entertaining, if not particularly innovative, film. It happens to be elevated by the fresh-faced appeal of Amanda Bynes … and the solid presence of Colin Firth."

But Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) is not as impressed with Bynes. He describes her as "simply a Warner Brothers version of Disney's teen TV sensation-for-the-moment, Hilary Duff. Amanda's comic abilities consist mainly of the old stumble gag. She trips every few minutes just to remind the audience that she is a 'typical' awkward American teenager." He concludes, "If your kids liked The Princess Diaries, most likely this will also satisfy."

While many Christian critics seem pleased to have a film with clear positive messages, no matter how derivative the storytelling might be, most mainstream critics find this familiar fairy tale little more than "harmless … a cheap knockoff."