As a father of a twenty year old daughter I would love to be able to assign heavily armed men trained to kill to escort my daughter everywhere she goes. Try to make a move and bam, problem over. While this service is not available to us mere mortals it is one at the disposal of the President of the United States, well may be not the killing part. In 2004 there where no less than three films that dealt with the plight of the presidential daughter, Spartan (high ranking US official at least), Chasing Liberty and First Daughter. The later takes a light hearted look at a very special coming of age story, how can a girl under constant observation properly experience life and grow into an adult. Samantha Mackenzie (Katie Holmes) is the title character, having grown up during her father’s first term she now faces another four more years of perpetual scrutiny. Sam is also starting that rite of passage for so many young people, the beginning of college. While college is typically a liberating experience, balancing a more serious class load with the greater freedom of being away from the parents, for Sam it is just more time in the fish bowl. She wants to fit in not as the first daughter but as any regular student, something that is impossible from the start as the university band plays ‘Hail to the Chief’ as she goes to her new dorm room. Sam’s new roommate, Mia (Amerie) attempts to liberate Sam by engaging in the typical PG College stunts such as sliding down a hill on a wet tarp and attending a party dressed in retro 70’s garb. Of course these events shock the media and wind up worrying her father. There is a little twist here; the young man, James, (Marc Blucas) that Sam is falling for is actually not at all what he purports to be. What ever conflict this film can muster revolves around Sam’s sense of betrayal and how Sam has to balance her feelings for him and come to grips with the truth about him.
While this film will never be considered for any awards or year’s best list it does have a certain charm to it. The college shown is very family friendly; no girls gone wild tapes will ever be made there. The antics that the media in the film find so shocking are little more than high jinx, an old fashion term for completely harmless. Sam is understandable as a character, after spending the best portion of her teen years in the media’s eye she wants the freedom that any teenager going off to college yearn for. This would be a completely different film if the Bush twins where used as source material. You have to consider this for what it is a family film that will work for the children and the adults. While the adults will want more in the line of a cohesive plot but sometimes simple can be a refreshing change. There are no complications here, the film moves along a very familiar formula, one that most of us have seen time and time again. At the heart of the story, removed from the office of the father it is a film that considers the time when a child wants to be seen by her parents as an adult.
The cast of this flick is basically capable but has little to work with. Katie Holmes does have talent and should try her best to transition away from the cutesy good girl roles like she had back in Dawson’s Creek. In the film The Gift she displayed the fact that she has what it takes for serious work but her beauty and appealing crooked smile seems to be seen by casting directors as only fit for roles like this. Michael Keaton is also wasted in his portrayal of the President. Here is an actor that has demonstrated himself in everything from action to heavy drama to light comedy. In this film his character is completely one dimensional far beneath what he is capable of doing. Amerie Rogers, listed just as Amerie here, gets her part as the roommate to work on at least one level. She starts as a person jealous of Sam but then gets into helping with the ‘rebellion’. At least there is a little bit of a character arc here, just a little bit. Marc Blucas as the male lead is one step above a male mannequin, good looking but whether he can truly act was not something you could determine from his presentation here.
It has been said that all directors want to act and all actors want to direct. Forest Whitaker has never disappointed me as an actor. He makes every character he ever presented interesting and fully fleshed out. Unfortunately, I can’t make the same statement about his new found career in the director’s chair. There is promise there as shown by his film ‘Waiting to Exhale’, but with First Daughter he seems to have missed the mark. One the plus side he does not attempt to have the movie take itself too seriously. Whitaker gives a fairy tale like feel to the flick that gives the audience the permission to completely suspend any realism. The film is paced well, it moves along well enough so that the younger kinds watching will not get distracted. Whitaker is able to get a good cast signed to a project, now he really should look into scripts that can showcase such abilities as well as his own.
Fox has done an excellent job with the presentation of this film on DVD. They included the anamorphic 1.85:1 version on one side with the full screen on the other. This did allow me to see just how the alteration of the scope affected the film. In many cases material pertinent to the film was cut off with the full screen. The Dolby 5.1 audio provided a far better than average degree of ambience. There is a somewhat lackadaisical commentary track featuring the actors, they didn’t seem to project any real enthusiasm for the project but did show up for the commentary. The extras also include a featurette on the making of the big dance number that almost completely ignores the fact that Holmes was classically trained in ballet. Rounding thing out is a little piece on the score’s composer and a few deleted scenes. The film is good for a rainy day when the kids are stuck at home.