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The Forgotten Amanda Bynes Flop Getting A Second Chance On Netflix

Part of the fun of Netflix is rediscovering a movie you saw ages ago, preferably in your teen years, and spending an hour and a half wrapped up in sweet nostalgic bliss. No one wants to relive the low-rise jeans, pervasive diamantes, and sparkly hair clips of the '00s, but it seems that plenty of Netflix users are happy to reunite with the fun, light movies of the era — the ones you picked out at Blockbuster for a sleepover, and watched with pizza, popcorn, and a sugar rush.

One such movie having a renaissance moment courtesy of Netflix is What a Girl Wants. Released in 2003, the movie was slammed by critics — predictably, since it was about a teenage girl and aimed at teenage girls, and movie critics don't tend to be teenage girls or even former teenage girls. It did respectably at the U.S. box office, more than making back its $25 million budget, and matched that success at the worldwide box office — though by Hollywood standards it's considered something of a flop.

Of those audiences who watched What a Girl Wants, most enjoyed it, at least if you go by Rotten Tomatoes. Today, audiences looking for a gentle story where the good girl gets — as the title promises — what she wants, and the bad guy gets punched in the face by Colin Firth are rediscovering it.

What a Girl Wants is a modern fairy tale

In case it's literally been nearly 20 years since you've seen this movie — or you've never seen it, but you don't want to miss out again — here's the set-up.

Teenager Daphne (a young, not-yet-broken-by-Hollywood Amanda Bynes) grew up in New York with her mom Libby (Kelly Preston, sadly one of the actors we lost in 2020). Every year on Daphne's birthday, Libby tells her the story of her whirlwind romance and possible Bedouin wedding with Daphne's dad, Henry (Colin Firth).

Sadly for the couple, Henry is an English Lord. After he inherits his dad's title, Henry has to give up his desert-trekking ways and settle into his family's boring life of stuffy mansions, servants ,and the right to sit in the House of Lords. Meanwhile, Libby is deemed too free-spirited and American by Henry's advisors, especially acerbic Alistair (Jonathan Pryce). She's forced to leave for the sake of Henry's public image, and raises Daphne on her own.

However, when Daphne turns 17, she travels to England and tracks down Henry, who has given up his hereditary seat in the House of Lords and is running for election to the House of Commons (as a Tory, naturally).

Daphne and Henry start a tentative relationship, bonding over his secret love of cool music, Coco Pops, and motorbikes. But the pressure to live up to the expectations of British high society — regattas, garden parties with the Queen, endless debutante balls — makes Daphne feel just as trapped as Libby did. She has to decide if she's willing to give up her free-spirited ways for her father, while Henry has to decide if he wants to keep his reputation or his daughter.

The cast gives What a Girl Wants its charm

Anyone who reads that synopsis can likely predict how it all turns out. However, anyone who saw the poster for The Avengers could also probably tell you who was destined to win at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Movies don't have to be about the destination; they're about what happens between the opening and closing credits. In the case of What a Girl Wants, that means gently funny scenes of culture clash, geographically impossible but stunning B-roll of London, a teenage romance, a vaguely wicked stepmother and stepsister, a makeover montage, and father-daughter bonding moments. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, you'll enjoy this movie.

It helps that the actors are perfectly cast. Bynes was always a star at physical comedy, and playing goofy, charming teenage girls. Colin Firth is in the sweet, shy, and slightly bumbling mold he fit so well throughout this era of his career (see also Bridget Jones). Even the side characters are played by British acting royalty. Politically ambitious Alistair was one of the earlier roles of Game of Thrones cast members – specifically, renowned Shakespearean actor Jonathan Pryce, a.k.a. High Sparrow. Henry's mother Jocelyn is played by Dame Eileen Atkins — yes, an actual dame — another Shakespearean thespian, and also Queen Mary from season one of The Crown.

Many of us want to claim that we just love watching Films That Explore The Human Condition, but how many of us truly sit down on the couch at the end of a long day and put on, say, Schindler's List? What a Girl Wants is not Schindler's List. It's a modern-day fairy tale, and if that's what you need right now, give it a chance.