I love this movie a million red M&M’s.
This week I was saddened to hear about the passing of Kelly Preston. Though she was in several famous movies like, Twins (1988) and Jerry Maguire (1996), that’s not how I know her. As a child growing up in the 2000s, I’ll always remember Preston for playing the mother in countless movies I rewatched dozens of times. Movies like, Jack Frost (1998), The Cat in the Hat (2003), Sky High (2005), and The Last Song (2010). Of course, Preston’s most memorable maternal role will always be as Libby Reynolds in What a Girl Wants (2003). So, as a tribute, this week’s Wayback is What a Girl Wants. This movie is everything you’d want a 2000s teen comedy to be and Preston, as well as the rest of the cast, are big parts of what makes it so irresistible. I cannot tell you how many times I watched this movie on YTV. I’ve now rewatched it a handful of times in the past year and let me tell you, it totally holds up!
Based on the play, “The Reluctant Debutant,” What a Girl Wants follows Daphne Reynolds, a free-spirited, awkward, 17-year-old New Yorker. Feeling like a part of her is missing, she travels to London to meet Lord Henry Dashwood, the father she never knew. Despite not quite fitting into high society, Daphne and Henry connect and learn from each other the importance of standing out and being who you are.
You guys, there is no one I’m more rooting for to make a comeback than Amanda Bynes. I miss seeing her in movies! She’s a ball of pure charisma and always a scene-stealer. By the way, check out my reviews for Big Fat Liar (2002) and Easy A (2010), here and here. What a Girl Wants is my favourite Bynes movie though, for so many reasons: it takes place in England, Colin Firth is in it, it’s slightly musical, and it’s a classic, “girl thinks she needs to fit in but learns standing out is more important,” story. The 2000s LOVED using this trope in their teen comedies and What a Girl Wants milks it for everything it’s worth. It may seem like light fluff that’s copy and pasted from every other teen comedy, but the story can be, at times, surprisingly deep. It explores emotional familial themes while also managing to be a light, fluffy, treat! It’s also total wish fulfillment by the way. Spending an entire summer living in an English palace, attending fancy parties, having a summer romance with a musician, reconnecting with your father…Hell yes to all of this!
What a Girl Wants stars Bynes at arguably the height of her power as a teen idol. The movie is tailor-made for Bynes and gives her plenty of time to show off her trademark, “I’m clumsy, down-to-earth, and don’t know how to be fancy!” style of physical comedy. That’s where a majority of the movie’s humour stems from but y’know what? It works. It works because this movie is just plain delightfully charming and thoroughly earnest about the sweet message at its core. It’s a fun, great mix of silly, G-rated humour, perfectly-executed one-liners, and real obstacles you face as you grow up. There are a lot of layers to What a Girl Wants, but it all comes together to create an entertaining movie from start to finish.
Of course, what makes it work the most is Bynes herself. As Daphne, her charisma is unmatched and she brings a bubbly ease to every scene she’s in. She’s expectedly great at pulling off the physical comedy and the romance with Ian, played by the criminally underrated Oliver James, but I was also impressed by the few dramatic moments she gets to play as well. As brash and over the top as Bynes plays Daphne, she’s also able to pull off the character’s more vulnerable, reserved side as well. Not that she’s had much chance given her short filmography, but this is probably Bynes’ best “ACTING” acting she’s ever done. Her love scenes with Ian are legit. Sidenote, why oh why did Oliver James never take off and become a thing? He’s cute, charming, a beautiful singer, and a decent actor, so why couldn’t he become a teen phenomenon? It just doesn’t make sense. He has the range! Ugh, so frustrating. I could listen to the emotional banger that is, “Long Time Coming,” every day and I wouldn’t be mad about it. #JusticeForOliverJames.
I love Colin Firth. Particularly because he seems like the kind of actor who gets any script and is like, “oh, sounds like fun. I’ll do it!” He has has such a diverse portfolio of movies: Love Actually (2003), Mamma Mia! (2008), A Single Man (2009), The King’s Speech (2010)…and he’s fantastic no matter what! I appreciate not only how committed Firth is to the broad comedy in What a Girl Wants, but how delicately and professionally he handles the fractured father/daughter relationship as well. He could have phoned this role in and cashed that paycheque, but he’s genuinely moving as Henry, giving it as much effort as any other role. He and Bynes share a remarkable chemistry, and I really buy them as a father and daughter who despite their awkwardness, share an undeniable connection they just have to explore. Infinitely charismatic and lovable, I have all the time in the world for Firth.
I’ve seen her play a mom so many times that Preston feels almost like a mother to me in a weird way. She’s at her best in What a Girl Wants though and brings a fire to Libby that only she could. Wise, loving, fun, and fiercely protective, Preston is one of the best movie moms out there, in my opinion. Travelling halfway around the world just to be by her daughter’s side? Yass Libby! Oh, and standing up to Henry’s snooty fiancé, Glynnis, when she threatens Daphne? YASSSS LIBBY!Also, YASSSS Libby to that beautiful blue gown she wears to Daphne’s coming out party. Sidenote, the costumes in this movie are lowkey stunning. From the glamorous gowns to the dapper suits, to the wonderfully iconic early 2000s fashions, it’s all so colourful and beautiful.
Speaking of clothes, What a Girl Wants is automatically a winner for me because it features one of my favourite kind of movie scenes: a dressing room montage. A BRITISH dressing room montage! Love it. I also love the production design both of Daphne’s teeny, New York apartment, and Henry’s ornate mansion. Whenever a movie creates sets, specifically homes, that you know you’d love to actually live in yourself, I think that’s the mark of a job well done by the production team. It might not seem like it, but there’s actually an abundance of effort and craftsmanship put into the small details of What a Girl Wants, details I never noticed until I got older. Like the score! It is shockingly mature and lovely to listen to! The music in this movie as a whole is pretty fun. “I Wanna Be Bad” by Willa Ford? INTO IT.
A modern fairytale, What a Girl Wants is heartwarming. I’ll never get tired of this movie. It’s so comforting to me! I can’t quite explain it, but y’know that scene when Daphne and Henry put butter and jam on toast and fold it up into a sandwich? That shit is SO SATISFYING to me. A wonderful family movie that’s actually about the bonds of family, it’s definitely time for you to give What a Girl Wants a rewatch. Watch it for that toast scene alone. Yum!
Are you a fan of What a Girl Wants?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!