This one is right off the conveyer belt. It’s numbingly predictable due to a screenplay straight from the “how to write a script” formula book, which may be forgiveable, but it is also thuddingly dull due to performances and direction that lack energy and commitment, which is not.
Samantha (Katie Holmes) is the daughter of the President (Michael Keaton) and just starting college as her father is running for re-election. She is looking forward getting away from home and to the freedom of being “just like everyone else” for the first time.
But Sam’s not like everyone else, first because she has big men with curly wires coming out of their ears and photographers following her everywhere and second because of those qualities of her own that make her special, though she is not quite sure what those are yet.
The Secret Service detail and publicity are embarrassing and annoying. But it is finding out exactly who she is and what she wants that presents a greater challenge. Sam has to endure jealousy and teasing from her new classmates. She also has to deal with seeing her embarrassing moments spread all over the media.
Sam gets some support from her free-spirited roommate, Mia (Amerie of television’s “The Center”) and her understanding dorm Resident Advisor, James (“Buffy’s” Marc Blucas) and to thank them she whisks them off on Air Force One for a road trip right out of “Cinderella,” a visit to the White House for an elegant state dinner.
But Sam, Mia, and James all have lessons to learn and apologies to make before an ending that even Cinderella would consider happy. As for me, I was just glad it was over.
Holmes has shown herself to be a fine actress in The Ice Storm and Wonder Boys, but she seems a bit lost here, probably because Sam is not a character but a concept, and a wispy one at that. The flickers of detail are not even half-hearted, more like quarter, with some nonsense about whether Sam’s father is devoting enough of his attention to domestic affairs (double meaning, get it?) and one of the least surprising surprises in the history of “you should have told me” boy-temporarily-loses-girl developments and an “I’ll show him; I’ll make him jealous” response that plays like a lost “Brady Bunch” episode, one that was lost intentionally because it did not meet the high intellectual standards of the rest of the show.
It has tiresome fake crises — Sam appears in the tabloids and her father’s ratings drop by three points! So the solution is to pull her out of school and put her on the campaign trail supporting her father. Yeah, that’s just what happened when Jenna and Barbara Bush got caught drinking. Oh, the Secret Service agents mistake a water pistol for a gun! Yeah, who would expect a water pistol at a pool party? Any possible humor or suspense was wrung from that one decades ago. Some car crashes into a barrier as a way of attacking Sam? That one might have been interesting if it was ever referred to again.
It all feels more like product than story, primarily directed at middle school girls, who will enjoy the princess-y romance and won’t mind that they deserve much better. But I do.
Parents should know that the characters treat drinking as a badge of liberation and adulthood. Although they are underage, Samantha talks about hiding beer in a cooler and Mia asks if the Secret Service agents will buy beer for them. Later, they go out drinking and Sam gets tipsy and begins dancing on a table. There are some mild sexual references and situations. Mia brings a boy she has just met into her room and tells Sam she can’t come in for two hours — but apparently they were just kissing. Later she says that she kisses boys indiscriminately, except for the one she really likes. Mia and Sam dress up to look like call girls, with lace-up boots, hot pants, and fake tattoo. Characters use mild language (“kiss my ass,” etc.). A strength of the movie is capable and successful African-American characters and loyal inter-racial friendships.
Families who see this movie should talk about what Sam does and does not have in common with other college freshman. Why does Mia kiss guys she is not serious about but not the guy she really likes? What does it mean to say that someone is “always at home, no matter what anyone else thinks?” They should talk about how liking the way you are when you are with someone is a sign of a good relationship and about how both Sam and her father know that a good way to get people to do what you want is to let them know that you have high expectations, because they will want to live up to them. What does it mean to say that “every father has to learn to let go of his little girl and every little girl has to learn to let go of her father?”
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy 2004’s other Presidential daughter movie, Chasing Liberty with Mandy Moore. They will also enjoy classics about privileged but sheltered young women trying for some freedom Roman Holiday and It Happened One Night. And they might like to read about the exploits of the most famous Presidential daughter, Alice Roosevelt and find out more about Lyndon Johnson’s daughter, Lynda Robb, now a literacy advocate on behalf of Reading is Fundamental. She married one of her father’s Marine Guards, Charles Robb, later Senator and Governor of Virginia.