Robbie Gruder’s Review of “What a Girl Wants”


My American Lit prof is one of those braniac guys, even though he’s only like two years older than me and is always saying stuff like, “Even fiction is fiction,” which is hard for me to get, because what else could it be? But I think it actually makes sense, because he’s a postmodernist. And some other post something I can’t exactly remember. And he’s pretty skinny, and his skin’s so pale it reminds me of cookie-dough ice cream—it’s what some of my friends call a library tan. But one of the things I wrote down in my notes is there’s no significant division between so-called “high” art and “low” art (which surprised me because at first I thought he meant Harold and Kumar). So I went to see What a Girl Wants at the super-cheap movie place, which has a funny smell and some old movie seats piled up in one of the theaters, but it’s hella cheap, which I went to it because this girl I want to date said it’s really good about culture and stuff, and it had Amanda Bynes in it, that girl who used to be on Nickelodeon before she went crazy. But I didn’t know she used to be on Nickelodeon, because I don’t watch it; some kid told me.

So while I was watching the movie, which was okay, I was thinking about Henry James’s’ “Portrait of a Lady”—mainly because I was supposed to have the whole book read for a class the next day, so I was reading during the boring parts of the movie. I got a lot read, actually. But I totally noticed it’s like very similar and analogous to each other, the book and the movie I mean.

It’s not like it’s an easy book to read, or even see in a movie. Back then they really took they’re time when they wrote long novels—I was seriously depressed when I started it and found out Henry James even wrote a fricking preface, and the preface is thirteen pages and the print is like heinous small. And then they have one of those introductions by some other professor guy, and it’s humongous, and has sentences like “When an author proclaims that he is producing a “serious work” and the world accepts it as such, we can justifiably ask what has given the work this “serious” character.” I’m not bullshitting. I wrote it down exactly, and I kept reading it over but it kept coming out saying—well, not much. I mean, if you can’t tell that a book by Henry James is serious, maybe you shouldn’t of been an English major to start off with.

But anyway, I read some of it, except when the movie scenes were too dark or even some times interesting, and I started seeing how Amanda Bynes being an American girl in London with a lot of stuffy people there was almost exactly like Isabel Archer, who’s the Lady the book is a portrait of, except without all the pop songs in the background. Like Amanda Bynes is always talking kind of loud and especially is always dancing, like at a club, even when she’s in this really fancy stately mansion that her English father is the head of, and you know there’s no rock and roll there since they’re all stiffs, but she’s dancing anyway like she can hear the soundtrack of the movie, which is practically like a DJ at a middle school dance. And in the book Isabel Archer has this old aunt in Europe, which you can practically see in your mind as crusty-looking and in one of those flumpy dresses with flower patterns, and she tells her stuff like “Oh if you’ll be very good and do everything I tell you I’ll take you there,” which is Florence, which is in Italy. But Isabel says “I don’t think I can promise you that,” which is exactly kinda like the Amanda Bynes being a rebel thing. Except Isabel flushes when she said it, which is pretty old-fashioned, but then Henry James wrote a couple hundred years ago. But it’s a good comparison of two American girls with, like, fiery spirits. And Europe.

So Amanda Bynes went there to find her father, who was English and a lord and met her mother when they were in Africa, somewhere with camels, then they moved to Chinatown in New York—I mean Amanda Bynes and her mother, not her father, because he was rich and pretty smart and actually kind of good, like ethical, so he stayed in London to be a politician, without even being weaselly or anything, and he thought his wife left him, and she thought he wanted her to leave, so they didn’t have any sex or anything for 17 years, which is a long time but makes sense because she was in Chinatown and he was in London. But the movie tells you all this stuff. And Amanda Bynes ’ boyfriend plays guitar in a band, even if his music kinda sounds like the Care Bears.

I thought What A Girl Wants was pretty cool, but only mainly if you’re a teenager, or in that time before you become a teenager and you think people in high school are way sophisticated. And parts of the movie are good that way, I mean for younger kids because they’re a little dumber, because you know exactly what’s gonna happen next. Like when the boring fat rich guy has a chandelier he’s all ga-ga about and Amanda Bynes turns up the amps at the party and the band plays a song and the chandelier comes crashing down. I know really loud music can break glass, like you see with opera singers on Gilligans Island or something, but I couldn’t figure out how the loud bass could make the rope or whatever holds the chandelier up break. But it did.

And the movie helped me understand Portrait Of A Lady, which is part of art being exactly the same whether it’s high or low, which is pretty postmodern, so I guess I’m learning something in that class. The movie helped especially because I read two chapters during it, even though I don’t think I’m gonna finish it. I think Henry James is a literary giant but I’m not into books that have words like “disponsibles” and “pussilanimity” (which has nothing to do with cats, so my SAT booklet on Greek and Roman roots wasn’t exactly all that great). And the first page even starts with saying the best time in life is usually tea time (but he didn’t even say “good” or “best”—he said “most agreeable,” which in my opinion is a little weird). I skipped down the page and saw the word “sex,” but it was only that old-fashioned way of saying women, like “the fairer sex,” that kind of thing. But then I did notice the word “eternity” on that page, so I got a little depressed about reading the whole book.

But it’s all good, because I figure Isabel Archer finds an older guy to be her father-figure and love her and stuff, like Amanda Bynes does. Only he’s Amanda Bynes’ real father, and by the end of the movie she’s happy, but even before that all the British raised-pinkie types start dancing crazy at a party when she gets the band to play James Brown, so they know being British is boring but Americans can really get down and kick-ass party, which is just what they did in that movie Princess Diaries, which this one is kinda like. Well, alot alike. Like maybe they’ll go to court about it. Except maybe they all owe some money to Henry James, because he did it first.

So I may be dead meat since I didn’t read the whole book, but I think my American Lit prof is gonna love it when I say how Amanda Bynes’ movie is like a homage to Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, kind of like sampling in hip-hop songs, even if hip-hop people don’t sample really long boring old stuff.

Unhinged Magazine storywriter Tim J. Myers is a prolific, popular and much-honored poet and the author of many books. He has been nominated for two Pushcarts (American literary prize) and has two books of poetry published. Dear Beast Loveliness: Poems of the Body (BlazeVox), earned an excellent review from award-winning poet Grace Cavalieri. My Glad to Be Dad: A Call to Fatherhood (Familius) won the inaugural Ben Franklin Digital Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association, was featured on the Parents Magazine website, and reached #5 on the Amazon “Hot New Releases in Fatherhood.”  He has published far more fiction and non-fiction for adults than we can list here as well as 11 children’s books (plus four to soon be released). His children’s books include Down at the Dino Wash Deluxe (Sterling), Dark-Sparkle Tea, Good Babies, Basho and the River Stones and Basho and the Fox (which was listed on the The New York Times bestseller list for children’s books, among other honors).

© 2014, Tim J. Myers
published with permission

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