One of the riches sources of story lines for movies have always been children’s stories, especially fairy tales. They are familiar to everyone so even when you modernize them or changes things around the audience can still identify them adding to the enjoyment. Another reason they are popular as movie fodder is they always deal with straight forward character archetypes. There is a clear line between the heroes and villains as well as good and evil. This also ensures the plots and themes will translate to any time period or situation easily. Among the most popular fairy tales is that of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You have a beautiful young maiden who is plotted against by a wicked witch. Her only hope to overcome this is seven kindhearted dwarfs who assist Snow White in overcoming the machinations of the witch and win the heart of the handsome prince. In the movie ‘Sydney White’, the latest from director Joe Nussbaum, our heroine goes to college. Since young women in classic fairy tales only needed to know how to cook, sew and look beautiful there was little need for formal education. With today’s modern woman college is a must. Being beautiful is still mandatory for a damsel in distress however.
When considering this movie you have to be aware of the target audience. In this case that would be the ‘tween and teen set. It has been more decades than I care to think about since I was in that demographic but in a situation like this I do try to put my self as best as possible into their shoes. With a film like this it is not uncommon for there to be a discrepancy between reviews by critics and the reaction of the audience. You cannot review this film like an adult, especially one who is looking at a film for consistency in the story line or directory methods. The film was made to be a fun flick for kids and families and to that end it is successful. It is rated PG-13 because of some slight references that could be considered sexual in nature. There is more sex in many commercials and definitely most teen oriented television series that depicted here. Next to 99% of the college set comedies that abound today this is out right pure. There is also some college partying going on. Again, you see more on any blog that tracks the antics of the popular pop princess so often in the news lately. Universal has been putting out the ‘American Pie’ series of flicks for years. It is reassuring that they have not forgotten the family as an audience for their DVD releases.
Sydney White (Amanda Bynes) is a cute girl but more than a bit of a tomboy. She frequently works construction sites along side her widowed father Paul (John Schneider) who is a plumber. Every one on the site is excited for Sydney when she gets accepted to her late mother’s alma mater; Florida's Southern Atlantic U. Mom was also in the leading sorority there, Kappa Phi Nu. One the bus to her new school Sydney goes through a box her mother left her. It contains a letter to her and photographs of mom’s happiest times, many of which had to do with her sorority days. While the sorority handbook her mother left her is about a commitment to community and friendship the sorority now is ruled by a wicked witch of a girl, Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton). Most people would use the alternate spelling of witch with the letter ‘B’ as far more descriptive of her. She enjoys staring into the sorority ranking page musing that she is still the fairest of them all. Sydney meets and befriends her new roommate, Dinky (Crystal Hunt), a friendly and outgoing girl. Dinky has always dreamt about becoming a Kappa. Rachael has her eye on the president of Beta house, the best fraternity on campus, Tyler Prince (Matt Long) but once he meets Sydney he begins to become infatuated with her much the chagrin of Rachael. Unlike other girls that Tyler knows Sydney can throw a football better than most guys around. To make her father happy and honor the memory of her mother Sydney pledges the sorority which should be easy since she is a legacy. She tries her best to girl her self up with a borrowed dress and glittery eye shadow but the queen bee of Greek row has other ideas. Rachael does everything possible to make rush week impossible for Sydney but the plucky tomboy is more that the queen can overcome. Finally Rachael arranges for Sydney to be dismissed from the pledge class and forced to move the Vortex. This is a dilapidated old house and current home of the seven most socially unacceptable students on campus. It doesn’t take long for Sydney to fit right in to the group of misfits. There is Lenny (Jack Carpenter) the hypochondriac, painfully shy Jeremy (Adam Hendershott), always lusty Spanky (Samm Levine), Gurkin (Danny Strong) who is constantly angry, smart and wise Terrance (Jeremy Howard), Embee (Donté Bonner) the perpetually jet lagged exchange student and finally the sweet but less than bright George (Arnie Pantoja). They decide that they have to help Sydney get back at Rachael and gain her proper place as a Kappa.
Even as someone with their ‘tween and teen years long in the past I found this film to be delightful. It was fun to watch. Since this is the intension of the movie it has to be said that it works. Sure some of the gags are corny even silly but who cares, you’ll laugh. Joe Nussbaum also directed another ‘tween flick, ‘Sleepover’ which also stars Sara Paxton as the mean girl. He knows the genre and the audience and directs the film accordingly. There is a clear cut division between the good and mean characters here, no guess work required. The pacing moves along at a good clip with gags and jokes evenly placed to make sure the audience has what they came for, laughs. There are some jokes at the expense of the seven geeks mostly on the level of being embarrassed when one sees Sydney’s undies in the bathroom; nothing raunchier that that. The themes as expressed in this movie are something that hits home for the young viewers. Fitting in is all that matters at that age and this film shows a determined, bright girl who can completely be herself and still be popular. More than good versus evil the message here is a contrast between the superficial Rachael and the down to earth Sydney.
The best reason to see this film is Amanda Bynes. I can’t think of a single film she as been in that wasn’t great fun to watch. I also admit that I enjoy her television series, ‘What I Like About You’. The reason is the energy this young woman has; it is infectious. With big doe like eyes and mouth always in a smile it is impossible not to like her. I have a daughter who is proud to be a tom boy and it is refreshing to see an actress who is not so girly that she can’t enjoy herself. Bynes has a natural talent for comedy. She is not afraid to take a fall or shy away from physical humor. It is great that she is getting roles in high profile comedies like ‘Hiarspray’. Sara Paxton offers a fantastic contrast to Bynes. She is getting a bit type cast as the mean girl but having seen her in other moves this young woman as potential that is only now coming to fulfillment. With these two actresses in the movie let’s hear it for rising stars without mug shots.
Universal releases this flick to DVD with excellent technical specifications. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video has bright, vibrant colors. The Dolby 5.1 audio offers a nice sound stage. Along with the film there some deleted scenes and a very funny blooper reel. Rounding things off is a featurette of Sydney and her prince. This is family fun and will make for a great afternoon together. Forget what some adults may say in reviews, watch it and enjoy.