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Sunday, November 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Light Rain Fog/Mist
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What a Girl Wants

From the director of Joe Dirt (you don't know how long I've waited to use that opening phrase) comes What a Girl Wants, a comedy from the other end of the social spectrum. And barring a copyright-infringement suit from Christina Aguilera, who may want her song title back, this latest Cinderella story may live happily ever after at the box office (for a week or two), despite turning into a pumpkin long before arriving at the ball. It'll make money because the filmmakers have squarely set their sights on what a girl wants. She wants a killer bedroom, rockin' clothes, a cute boyfriend and a daddy who bears a striking resemblance to Prince Charming. Oh, and she wants it all to happen in England, home of Princess Di and The Princess Diaries.

Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes is Daphne, a 17-year-old Yank who heads to London in search of her father, Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), whom she's never met. Her parents would have gotten married if the Dashwood clan hadn't sent Daphne's American mother (Kelly Preston) packing. Now, Lord Dashwood is positioning himself for a run at prime minister, with a social-climbing fiancÃe (Anna Chancellor) and her snobby daughter (Christina Cole) in tow. But Daphne, who looks like a young Linda Blair channeling Jennifer Aniston, could spoil the tea and crumpets. She's just so damn American! Like a Henry James heroine (in hip-huggers), she keeps tripping over the British class system.

Then there are the times she literally trips ' the movie's clumsy attempts at slapstick. But, clearly, something had to be done, because Bynes doesn't have enough charm to get by on her own. She has a Disney sheen to her ' earnest even when she's trying to be jaded. The director puts her through a series of travel and fashion montages in an effort to pump up the volume, but it's the supporting cast that makes the most noise. "No hugs, dear, I'm British," says Eileen Atkins as Lady Jocelyn, an aristo with a taste for commoners. Firth is less successful as daddykins, if only because the role is conceived so romantically. Like the movie itself, Lord Dashwood is a figment of the average 12-year-old girl's imagination.

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