3 Stars - WHOLESOME
It is not difficult to know what a girl wants. She wants what all of us want. She wants to be unconditionally loved for who she really is. This simple message is discounted by some and seen as trite by others, but it is a message that speaks to the heart of both the young and old among us.
Director Dennie Gordon plays with the Cinderella theme once more with the wicked step-mother-to-be and the wicked step-sister-to-be. But the difference in this modern retelling is that Cinderella is a daughter in search of a father more than a prince. Inspired by the loss so many young women experience, of fathers absent from their lives, this filmed version of William Douglas Home’s play “The Reluctant Debutante” speaks to many empty hearts. In this instance, the heart that is empty is that of seventeen year-old Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes) of New York City.
But the tale begins eighteen years earlier in Morocco.
Daphne’s mother, Libby Reynolds (Kelly Preston) was a free-spirited musician traveling all over the world when she literally stumbled into the arms of Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), a Lord of British aristocracy. Like so many fairytales before, this common girl falls in love with the aristocrat, not realizing his wealth but simply loving the man.
This is the theme of all true romantic tales. The various trappings of beauty, wealth, power and fame are a liability in love. Not knowing if we are loved for our true selves or whether someone is just enamored by the externals, we wait for love. When it comes, we find ourselves captivated and scared at the same time. What will happen when they discover our true selves? Will they still love us for ourselves, or will they switch their desires to what we possess?
Libby and Henry ask the chief of a Bedouin tribe to marry them and they embark on their camel-driven honeymoon into a happy future. But when they return to England and the lavish Dashwood estate, it is immediately obvious that Libby’s free spirit is unappreciated in the proper Dashwood family and aides. Through snobbery and deceit, they succeed in removing her from Henry’s life.
Henry never knew he had a daughter. But Libby told Daphne the story of her father every birthday and she longed to be with him. On her 17th birthday, she decided to go to him.
Predictably but warmly presented, Daphne enters her father’s life with great expectations and little understanding of the pressures of wealth and aristocracy. At first being herself, she is soon required to be “different.” To be accepted into her father’s world, to have his fame and his name, Daphne clearly is asked to not be who she is.
The struggle is universal. All of us come of age with an awareness that for us to be accepted we must deny those parts of ourselves that make us unique. Daphne’s musician boyfriend affirms the longing of her heart when he says, “I don’t understand why you are trying to fit in when you were born to stand out!” His call to her from a place of unconditional acceptance changes her answer to her father’s demands and changes his life as well. This is a message that never gets old, no matter how many times it is told.
- When we find a person who accepts us just as we are, there is a part of us that finally takes a breath and rests. Why do you think it is so difficult to find such acceptance and love? Why do we put so many expectations on others and ourselves?
- There are parts of us that need to be “different” if we are to truly be persons able to share our lives with others. What do you think these are and what makes them different from other aspects of ourselves that we should not surrender?
- Written with a melodramatic flair, this film uses the names of Dashwood for the dashing aristocrat, and Libby for the libertarian American. Do you believe these techniques add to or distract from the telling of the tale?
- The presence of a spiritual life and its moral foundation in either Lord Henry Dashwood or Libby Reynolds could have protected them from this situation. How do you think Daphne’s life would have been different? How would Henry’s? How might their lives have changed British culture?