A modern-day spin on the Sandra Dee-Rex Harrison film THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE (1958), this light-hearted fairy tale is aimed squarely at pre-teen girls, who are sure to succumb to its spunky charms. Seventeen-year-old Daphne (Amanda Bynes), raised by her single mother, Libby (Kelly Preston), in a 5th-floor walk-up in Manhattan's Chinatown, knows her father only from Libby's bittersweet tales of a romance derailed by class differences. Libby has tried to protect Daphne from the snobbery she experienced, but a sentimental father-daughter wedding dance prompts the misty eyed teen to hop a plane to London, where long-lost dad lives. There she befriends attractive, struggling musician Ian (Oliver James), who helps her get up the nerve to approach her father, wealthy politician Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth). Courtesy of the inevitable bad timing, their first meeting involves a humiliating pratfall, witnessed by Henry's stuffy fiancee, Glynnis (Anna Chancellor), her self-involved daughter, Clarissa (Christina Cole), and Daphne's wistful grandmother, Jocelyn (Eileen Atkins). After the initial shock of coming face-to-face with a daughter he didn't know existed, Parliamentary candidate Henry bravely introduces the eager-to-please Daphne to British society. Her affability outweighs her gawkiness and soon the stodgiest lords and ladies are eating out of Daphne's hand. But once the novelty factor wears off, Daphne starts transforming herself into a proper young lady in hopes of helping her father win the election; at the same time, Henry starts thinking his life took a wrong turn about 18 years ago. The happy ending is a foregone conclusion, but what could have easily have been a carbon copy of THE PRINCESS DIARIES (2001) benefits from the efforts of its strong cast. Bynes is a charmer who adeptly straddles the line between romantic heroine and physical comedienne, while Firth is extremely enjoyable as a befuddled father trying to balance his prim and proper life with his spirited teenager's influence. Not everyone could have pulled off the scene in which, clad in leather pants and a muscle tee, he cuts loose in front of a mirror to the strains of "Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Coo." Preston disappears for a long stretch, but does well with the material that she's given. Other roles are more predictable, including Henry's wicked, meddling adviser (Jonathan Pryce), and the snooty Glynnis and Clarissa, stereotypical wicked step-relatives who wouldn't be out of place in Cinderella.
With pro-"Operation Iraqi Freedom" sentiment running high, Warner Bros. executives opted to head off the perception that this fluffy fantasy had a covert political agenda by airbrushing pre-war advertising materials featuring Bynes, sporting an American-flag t-shirt and impudently flashing a peace sign in front impassive Buckingham palace guards. In the new version, her hand is on her hip. leave a comment --Angel Cohn