This is not just a fairy tale — it is a full-out fantasy straight from the heart of all young girls and former young girls who really really love their daddies. It may feel to other people like a adorableness overdose, but its intended audience will enjoy it very much.
Adorable Amanda Bynes plays Daphne Reynolds, the spirited daughter of a wedding singer and single mom named Libby (Kelly Preston). Daphne has always dreamed of meeting her father, but her parents split up before he even knew she was going to be born, and he doesn’t know anything about her. After she graduates from high school, she hops on a plane and shows up at his house. Except it isn’t exactly a house — it’s one of those hundred-room Masterpiece Theatre-style palaces.
It turns out her father is Lord Henry Dashwood (adorable Colin Firth), who has just given up his hereditary seat in the House of Lords to stand for office (they say “stand” instead of run in England) just like a commoner. He is engaged to a horrible social-climbing monster named Glynnis (Anna Chancellor) with a snooty teen-age daughter. Daphne is a breath of fresh air and both she and Henry learn a lot about themselves as they learn about each other.
Bynes is a gifted comedienne who does not get a chance to show off what she does best in this movie the way she did in “Big Fat Liar” and her television show. But she has a fresh and engaging presence and some able and charismatic support from classically trained stage actors Firth (who looks GREAT dancing in leather pants), Eileen Atkins, and Jonathan Pryce. The love interest, played by Ian Williams, should be high on the Teen Beat hearthrob list.
The movie feels too long because it is more like a string of unconnected sit-com episodes, each one signaling its conclusion the moment it starts. Each incident fails to build on or even be reflected in the one that comes next. It has a pre-packaged feel, leaving absolutely nothing to chance, not even the possibility that there might be some eight-year-old who has never seen a movie before and might not know that the bad guys are really bad unless they engage in the most idiotically outrageous (and self-defeating) behavior. Those parody villains who let the hero plot his escape because they just have to go into long explanations of everything they are doing have nothing on these guys. The climactic, Cinderella-ish conclusion to the big coming-out ball makes Daphne seem inconsistent and immature. And the climactic decision by Henry makes him seem irresponsible and immature.
Parents should know that there is some brief strong language in the movie, including a reference to a dog that bit a man’s testicle and an ugly insult (from a villain) about a character’s mixed race heritage. The family issues, including the “Parent Trap” problem of having a child bring her estranged parents together, may be difficult for some children.
Families who see the movie should talk about the way Daphne tried to “fit in” and whether Henry was doing the same. What were the most important things Daphne and Henry learned from each other? They should also Henry’s decision to change direction and what the impact is likely to be.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Princess Diaries” and Disney’s “Pollyanna.” The movie is very loosely based on “The Reluctant Debutante,” which is available on video, and it might be fun to compare them. It is by no means a classic, but it does have a rare film performance by one of the 20th century’s most exquisite comediennes, Kay Kendall, who appears with her husband, Rex Harrison and Sandra Dee as the American debutante who falls for a musician.