Certainly not What a Girl Wants, which was the title of the 2003 remake of this 1958 comedy. What a difference forty-five years makes. What a Girl Wants–which, incidentally, was introduced to me by my husband–is cute. Amanda Bynes, its teenage star, is cute and charismatic and good at physical comedy. Colin Firth, as her staid British father, is in cute autopilot in his Mr. Darcy role. Overall, I tend to get the movie’s cuteness mixed up with The Princess Diaries. They’re both cute in that “just be yourself (as long as you’re cute)” way.
The Reluctant Debutante is, well, different. Although it was a little more difficult to get into at first, it made me laugh more. And, most interestingly, instead of focusing on the self-esteem of the younger generation, The Reluctant Debutante offers their parents as its comic stars. Sandra Dee plays the debutante of the title (this is the first time I’ve ever seen her in a movie, and her boring, squeaky-clean sincerity finally explains the scornful tone of the “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” song from Grease). Rex Harrison plays her father as a sort of twentieth-century, higher-class Mr. Bennet, Kay Kendall (Harrison’s wife in real life) plays his well-meaning but overly class-conscious wife Sheila, and Angela Lansbury rounds out the cast as Sheila’s gossipy and competitive cousin Mabel Claremont.
In addition to (and perhaps because of) the different generational focus, The Reluctant Debutante is actually a little more risqué than What a Girl Wants. It’s nothing at all shocking by today’s standards, of course—just drinking and references to the potential debauching of young women. Still, it’s curious that the later film should actually be more “innocent.” Again, the audience for What a Girl Wants is largely tween and teen girls, though apparently some of our favorite Dunder-Mifflin employees also enjoy it (see episode 23–”Beach Games”–of season 3 of The Office).
What a Girl Wants also has clear-cut villains, including a potential stepmother (Mr. Darcy, ahem, Dashwood—yes, they did name him Dashwood, as in the main family name in Sense and Sensibility—is of course single, divorced and separated by a continent from Daphne’s mother). In contrast, in The Reluctant Debutante, Jimmy Broadbent is already married to Jane’s stepmother, Sheila, and she isn’t wicked. Nor is Clarissa, Mabel Claremont’s daughter and Jane’s fellow debutante. She just has an unfortunate predilection for boring young men who love nothing better than discussing traffic patterns. I found the lack of villainy refreshing—the movie certainly found enough amusing plot obstacles without it. (Oh, and by the way, it’s merely implied that Jimmy is divorced from Jane’s American mother–the word “divorce” does not appear in the film, which perhaps gives some indication of what topics were more taboo at the time.)
I’m tempted to try to analyze the two films and come up with conclusions about the sophisticated, self-deprecating humor of earlier generations as opposed to the “me” focus and slapstick humor of current generations, but of course that would be an oversimplification of differences that probably have more to do with the audience age for each film. But, still, a 2003 movie that’s more earnest and sincere than a 1950s movie? It might just make me question our caricature of the 1950s.
Add comment May 20th, 2007