What a Girl Wants (film)

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What a Girl Wants
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDennie Gordon
Produced by
Written by
Based onThe Reluctant Debutante
by William Douglas-Home
Music byRupert Gregson-Williams
CinematographyAndrew Dunn
Edited byCharles McClelland
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • April 4, 2003 (2003-04-04)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$50.7 million[1]

What a Girl Wants is a 2003 American teen comedy film directed by Dennie Gordon and written by Jenny Bicks and Elizabeth Chandler. Based on the 1955 play The Reluctant Debutante by William Douglas-Home,[2] it is the second adaptation for the screen of this work. It stars Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, and Kelly Preston. The film was released on April 4, 2003, received mixed reviews and grossed $50 million worldwide.


Daphne Reynolds is a 17-year-old American girl, living with her wedding singer mother, Libby, above a restaurant in New York City. Libby had met Briton Henry Dashwood in Morocco, and they married in a Bedouin wedding ceremony of uncertain legality. They returned to his family estate in England. His father soon died, making Henry the Lord Dashwood. Alastair Payne, the family's aristocratic advisor, tricks Libby into leaving, telling her it is best for Henry's duties not to know she is pregnant, then he lies to Henry, hiding the pregnancy from him and saying that Libby claimed to be leaving because she was in love with someone else.

Libby has always been honest with Daphne about who her father is, though Daphne feels a sense of emptiness without him. When Daphne graduates from high school, she runs off to London to try and meet her father. Henry has disclaimed his seat in the House of Lords to run for election to the House of Commons, hoping to eventually become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Henry is being pushed by Alistair, acting as his political advisor. Henry is engaged to Alistair's daughter, the snobby Glynnis, who has an equally snobby teenage daughter, Clarissa.

Checking into a London hostel, Daphne meets Ian Wallace, a local boy who works there to support his dream of making it as a musician. After forming a friendship when Ian shows Daphne around London, they start dating. When Henry catches Daphne at his estate, he is stunned to learn he has a child, but his mother, Jocelyne, immediately welcomes her in, giving her a room at the estate. After confirming things in a phone call with Libby, Henry embraces the opportunity to connect with Daphne. Daphne tries to win the acceptance of her father's social circle, but is repeatedly thwarted by Glynnis and Clarissa. In addition, Daphne has to ward off the advances of Armistead Stewart, a sleazy and arrogant upper-class boy whom Clarissa fancies. Daphne eventually pushes him into the Thames.

Daphne inadvertently wins over the aristocracy, including the elderly Princess Charlotte, whenever she interacts with them. However, Henry's political campaign suffers due to Daphne's flamboyant behavior, and his subsequent misbehavior with her. He asks her to assume the more dignified manner of the Dashwood lineage, after which Henry's polling numbers quickly improve. Ian is disappointed in her new behavior, made worse when she stands him up in favor of attending an upper-class social function.

During her coming-out party, hosted by her father (who flies Libby over to attend), Daphne overhears Alastair telling Glynnis how he "got rid of" Libby 17 years earlier. When Daphne confronts him, Glynnis locks her in another room. Glynnis then asks Ian, the band's lead singer, to announce the father–daughter dance, knowing Henry will have to dance with Clarissa. Libby frees Daphne, but when they see Henry dancing with Clarissa, Daphne rejects her new self, telling Henry she is returning to the United States. Sometime later, Henry surprises everyone by announcing that he is withdrawing from the election. As he leaves the press conference, Henry discovers that Alastair knew about Libby's pregnancy and manipulated their separation. Henry punches Alastair in the face, then breaks off his engagement to Glynnis.

Daphne is serving as a caterer at a wedding, where Libby is the singer. When the father–daughter dance begins, Henry shows up, telling Daphne that he loves her for who she is. Daphne embraces him, calling him "Dad" for the first time. Daphne finally gets the father–daughter dance she has been longing for her whole life. Henry informs Daphne that he has brought a large apology present for her—at which point Ian appears and asks her to dance. As Ian and Daphne dance, Henry apologizes to Libby, and those two also start dancing.

In the epilogue, Glynnis marries a wealthy nobleman, Clarissa marries Armistead, and Alastair works on a London tour bus. Henry and Libby are legally married in a Bedouin ceremony. Daphne is accepted into Oxford and is dating Ian.



Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 35% based on 108 reviews, with an average rating of 4.79/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Little girls will definitely enjoy it, but it's too syrupy and predictable for adults."[3] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 41 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[4] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "A" on scale of A to F.[5]

Edward Guthmann of The San Francisco Chronicle called it a "dreadful teen comedy."[6] Anya Kamenetz of The Village Voice described the film as "a sanitized adventure for the Mary Kate-and-Ashley set."[7]

Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend, the film grossed $11.4 million in 2,964 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #2 at the box office behind fellow newcomer Phone Booth ($15 million). By the end of its run, the film had grossed $36.1 million domestically and $14.6 million internationally, totaling $50.7 million worldwide.[1]


Before the US release of the film, print advertisements were altered to remove the peace sign that Bynes was giving in the poster as the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States, the United Kingdom and their allied forces had begun. A rep for Warner Bros. explained "'In a time of war, we made a slight alteration so that we could avoid any potential political statement in a completely nonpolitical film."[8]


The film won and was nominated for a number of awards throughout 2004.

Year Ceremony Category Recipients Result
2004 Kids Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actress Amanda Byrnes Won


  1. ^ a b c "What a Girl Wants (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
  2. ^ First line of closing credits: based on the play "The Reluctant Debutante" by WILLIAM DOUGLAS HOME (sic)
  3. ^ "What a Girl Wants". Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  4. ^ "What A Girl Wants Reviews-Metacritic". Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  5. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  6. ^ Guthman, Edward (April 4, 2003). "Film Clips". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  7. ^ Kamenetz, Anya (April 8, 2003). "Film". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  8. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (April 11, 2003). "Sign of the Times". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 27, 2014.

External links[edit]