October 8, 2007

Movie Review: Sydney White

As a retelling of the Snow White tale, Sydney White transplants the heroine from the forest to the equally dangerous world of Greek society. It is a movie that is more about picking out the fairy tale references and seeing how all of the pieces fit than making any type of deep comment on the state of modern college life. Sydney White is a fluffy little film that makes for light entertainment. It may play a little loose with the original story and be light on any real character development, but it is awfully charming and difficult to truly dislike. That is, unless you have anything against the supremely likable Amanda Bynes. Seriously, how can you honestly dislike this movie? It is harmless. Actually, it is a rather witty Snow White by way of Mean Girls type movie that will make you smile even as you forget the details.

Amanda Bynes stars as the titular Sydney White, a tomboyish daughter of a plumber who grew up on construction sites. The movie opens with Sydney about to head off to college where she plans to rush the same sorority that her long deceased mother had such great memories at. Even though she is of blue-collar origins, don't expect Bynes to do any slumming here, Sydney White on the whole has a rather spit polished sheen. Even the places and people that are supposed to be a bit on the dirty side have a distinctly clean aura about them.

Anyway, Sydney arrives on campus excited about following in her mother's footsteps. What she finds is an entirely alien world that is about as far removed from the construction site as you can get. She arrives at the sorority house and finds herself confronted by Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton), the princess president of the Kappa sorority house. Rachel feels threatened by the fresh-faced newcomer and sets out to keep the legacy rusher from ever entering the house. Before long Sydney finds herself banished to the Vortex, the ramshackle house that is home to a group of seven dorks (each conveniently aligning with one of the seven dwarves).

The plot reveals a plan for the Vortex that goes beyond the budding rivalry between Sydney and Rachel. Rachel has eyes set on ousting the dorks and building a new Greek center on the prime location. Once Sydney uncovers this plot she moves to mobilize the dorks and run for student council, which will give them the power they need to stop the plot and repair their home. That about sums up the plot.

Funny thing about Sydney White, besides the obvious connection to the Grimm fairy tale, the plot is very similar to one frm last year that you may remember. Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj also involves its titular character being humiliated by a top Greek house, here a fraternity, teaming with a group of losers in a rundown house and mobilizing them against their oppressors. They have virtually the same story. Which is better? That would have to be Sydney White. While Kal Penn is a capable actor, he was just about the only good thing about The Rise of Taj, much of the Sydney White cast have plenty to offer. True, it is not a terribly deep film but the entertainment value is much higher and with a more consistent tone.

It was fun sitting there and watching how the various fairy tale elements are worked into the script. My particular favorite was the poison apple, with the magic mirror a close second. The framework of the fairy tale works well for this tween targeted tale. While I am likely not a part of the target audience, the humor works well across demographics and has enough bite to make it a little more palatable. The screenplay by Chad Creasey has a middle of the road veneer to it, but it still strikes me as a bit smarter than your average tween comedy. I think that may be more to do with the cast's ability to make everything work.

I have only seen Amanda Bynes a few times, but she always displays considerable charisma and great screen presence. Both of which have taken strides forward from her mugging in She's the Man to her supporting performance in the hit Hairspray to this lead role. This is easily her best role to date. She moves throughout the comedic moments with ease, displaying good comic timing and an easy manner which makes her that much more believable. The future looks good for her. Of course, she also has a good supporting cast; in particular, Danny Strong and Samm Levine as two of the nerds. These two have made quite a career playing the geeky roles, and their experience and recognizable faces add a certain credibility. Of course, the geek cred may be attributed to newcomer Jack Carpenter as head dork Lenny. He brings the right note of sincere goofiness to the screen. Aside from this core group Sarah Paxton is fine as the witch and Matt Long as the prince. And let us not forget John Schneider as Sydney's dad.

The biggest problem with this lies in the direction. There is some awkwardness in the flow. Too many close-ups with no establishing shots add up to scenes that just look weird and leaves the audience a little disoriented. It is something that many may not even notice, but made many of the conversations a little awkward. Overall the direction is adequate, this is not demanding material.

Bottomline. While not destined to be remembered, it is more than disposable entertainment. It has fine performances led by the likable Bynes. The story is very familiar, and even a bit clever in how the pieces fall into place. I like this movie, and I think some of you will be surprised to find that you do too.



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