After high school graduation, Bynes flies to London, picks up a cute singing beau in no time at all (newcomer Oliver James), but all she really wants is Daddy, whose inner rebel is muffled in pinstripes. Firth is also saddled with a stuck-up fiancee and her daughter, plus a run for Parliament orchestrated by her nasty father. Nobody can do hound-dog eyes coupled with upper-class repression better than Firth, and here he gets his chance.
Not to belabor the point, although Girl is nothing if not belabored, Firth plays Lord Dashwood, the surname of Jane Austen's sisters in Sense and Sensibility, after having played Mr. Darcy twice, in A&E's entrancing Pride and Prejudice and in Bridget Jones's Diary. But this, alas, is Clueless without a clue.
Bynes has a pixie face and a Brazilian-model body of death, the juxtaposition supplying the movie's greatest tension. She's likable enough, though her acting range is ideally suited for children's cable and this role calls on her to be nonstop adorable.
Girl, you'll be happy to know, contains the entire catalog of chick-flick cliches: shopping (twice), debutante ball, evil rivals (mother and daughter), good and bad suitor (for Dad and daughter), makeover (ditto), plus acquisition of major jewelry.
Sterling stage actors Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins are prominently featured, but only Atkins is put to good use, uttering such maxims as "No hugs, dear, I'm British. We only show affection to dogs and horses."
Contact staff writer Karen Heller
at 215-854-2586 or email@example.com.
What a Girl Wants
** (out of four stars)
Produced by Denise Di Novi, Bill Gerber and Hunt Lowry, directed by Dennie Gordon, written by Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler, photography by Andrew Dunn, music by Rupert Gregson-Williams, distributed by Warner Brothers.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
Daphne Reynolds. . . Amanda Bynes
Lord Henry Dashwood. . . Colin Firth
Libby Reynolds. . . Kelly Preston
Lady Jocelyn.................. Eileen Atkins
Alastair Payne.............Jonathan Pryce. . .
Parent's guide: PG
Showing at: area theaters