I still remember the first time I watched this film – at my friend’s house, sitting on her bedroom floor, watching it on a small television with a VHS player. Hehe. Those were the days. What A Girl Wants is a modern, somewhat looser Cinderella retelling that while a simple, cheesy teen flick, has a lot of sweet charm to it, especially with its message of father-daughter relationships and finding one’s identity.
The story starts out with Daphne Reynolds who lives with her single mom, Libby, in Chinatown, New York. Her mom’s a wedding singer while Daphne, at seventeen, is working odd jobs and trying to decide what to do next with her future. At one of the weddings, Daphne is working as waitress when the father-daughter dance begins. Her mother recognizes that forlorn look and tries to console Daphne, but Daphne’s pained at the thought that her father-daughter dance will never come.
It’s been enough years of waiting for Daphne. She finally sets out for London, leaving her mom a note explaining that she just needs to meet her dad, hoping that she’ll find the missing piece of herself. In London, Daphne meets a cute teenaged guy, Ian Wallace, who helps her find her dad’s mansion. Daphne’s dad isn’t just an ordinary joe, though – he’s Lord Henry Dashwood, a politician who’s got big political aspirations and a spotless reputation; not to mention he’s engaged to a social climber who has a snobby daughter. Daphne’s first meeting with her father is an awkward one – as he thinks she’s a reporter after a picture of him. Of course, he’s flabbergasted when he learns that he had a daughter all these years! He and Libby had been deeply in love, but when he had brought her back to his family, unbeknownst to him, a family friend and political adviser had tricked Libby into thinking that Henry wanted her to leave – and Henry into thinking that Libby found another man.
Of course, now things are super complicated for Henry’s career. He’s advised to quickly show Daphne to the public, but as a daughter he knew about but was unable to see often. Daphne is a buoyant American teenaged girl, so most of the outings don’t go too well – one time she ends up falling off a stage into the laps of the royal trio: Prince Charles, William, and Harry!!
The longer Daphne stays, the stronger the connection between her and Henry grows. Not to mention all the phone calls Henry has been making with Libby. But when Henry’s polls start going down, he’s forced to have Daphne change; to be the person that society expects her to be. Daphne’s coming-out ball is supposed to be the perfect fairytale night, but when everything falls apart, can this modern day Cinderella choose to follow her heart? Can Henry and Daphne’s relationship actually work out or is it really too late to start?
So weirdly enough, I’m not a huge fan of teen flicks. On the flipside, I’ve seen quite a few. Lol. However, I’ve watched What A Girl Wants many times and can’t deny its easygoing and adorable attraction.
The best choice, I think, the crew did for this film was hiring a cast of wonderful actors. Back in the early 2000s, Amanda Bynes was still a teen (she was sixteen during the filming of this movie) and a very popular actress with the young crowd. It’s not hard to see why. Amanda is really adorable. She’s got effortless charisma about her that makes her the natural choice as a heroine. I really enjoy her role here. I love how she shrugs off her future step-sister’s meanness and stands up for herself. I like that she shoves Clarissa’s gross boyfriend, Armistead, in the water. I love how she takes the time to brighten up others’ lives (like bringing some fun to Peach and Pear’s party or giving them styling advice). Though I’m definitely not an extrovert and can’t relate so much on that level, her clumsiness and spontaneity is cute and makes for lots of fun and funny moments, especially in contrast with her upper-class father.
|"I love you Daphne. I wouldn't change you, I wouldn’t change you for anything, not one hair on your head."|
- Lord Henry Dashwood
Choosing Colin Firth for the father was in a word: brilliant. If anyone can portray a fatherly, stuffy, uptight British politician who loves 70s music and secretly wears leather pants (or tries to, lol) its Colin. He is actually my favorite part of the movie with his story of discovering what fatherhood means. I just love his initial nervousness around Daphne (so cute!!!), adorable stuttering, and protective fatherly instincts rising up (like when he freaks out about the motorbike, haha). His decision at the end is so heartwarming and really drives the theme about father-daughters home.
|"So let me guess, you're gonna disappear again without so much as a glass slipper." |
- Ian Wallace
The romance is also extremely sweet with the hero, Ian Wallace, a British teen who’s a singer in a band. And the actor is actually a singer which is pretty cool. Ian, himself, is self-described as a half-breed; his mother was aristocrat but married beneath her and never went back to that stuffy old life. Ian’s adorably sweet and laid back, who immediately takes a shine to Daphne. I love how he spends a good deal of the film looking for his Cinderella. One of my fav scenes is when Daphne sees him on the stage at Peach and Pear’s party; how they adorably stare at one another (never mind that everyone is probably noticing that, lol) while he finishes up the last song. My only complaint with Ian is how he pushes Daphne away when she starts changing. I do understand why he does it; he knows it’s not the real her and it probably hurts him to see her being so fake, but I still felt like he should take into account her view of the situation (that she’s trying to make her relationship work with her dad).
The supporting cast is excellent as well and I got a huge kick out of the fact that Anna Chancellor plays Henry’s fiancée, Glynnis, because she played Miss Bingley in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice along with Colin Firth. Unfortunately, foiled in love with Colin twice.
There are quite a few standout moments in this film with fun twists on the original fairy tale. I love how Daphne takes the ugly ball dress that Glynnis and Clarissa give her and transform it into a beautiful gown for the ball. I also like that Henry’s mother plays a godmother of sorts to Daphne, by just being an emotional support for her.
Also her dress at Daphne’s coming-out is so gorgeous! She honestly reminds me of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady which may have been intentional. I love so many small moments as well including the transition of Daphne calling her father Henry and the final moment when she says dad. I also love the scene when Henry takes Daphne on the motorbike to escape the paparazzi! Watching the prim lord jump on a bike and ride off is funny and honestly kinda cool. I really appreciated that Daphne made a decision to be herself, because in the end, trying to gain someone's affection by being perfect, it never works out.
The movie has its faults – it’s a teen film, so much of the conflict and dialogue is overly simplified or there for amusement (which is not necessarily a bad thing). While I thought the break-up they conceived for Libby and Henry worked for the story, realistically Libby would’ve talked to Henry before she left and not just accepted a message from Henry’s adviser, if she sincerely loved him.
Also, Henry could’ve gone after Libby and simply asked her why she was leaving him for someone else, at least for closure. And while I understand Libby’s fears about letting Henry know he has a kid (that she would be rejected like Libby was), I still feel like Henry had a right to know.
If you’re looking for a lighthearted, cute and charming “Cinderella” story, this is a great choice. Like the fairy tale itself, happy endings prevail and Daphne is reunited with family and love-interest, Ian, for a sweet climax that will make you all smiles and happy feels. And did I mention there's Colin Firth?!!
What A Girl Wants is rated PG for a few brief curse words & brief mild innuendo.