Who's the Bitchiest of Them All?
Sydney White / Agent Bedhead
Film Reviews | September 22, 2007 | Comments ()
Normally, I’m a bit of a purist in terms of film adaptations of literature. So, when faced with a storybook character making its leap to film, I would generally defer to the inherent creative laziness of the cinematic gods and mutter something obscure about the tattered ruins of our collective childhood. However, it’s a different matter when it comes to folklore and fairy tales, which began as oral stories and survived countless interpretations and translations before ever committing themselves to the written word. Generally speaking, these tales have persisted for hundreds of years, and they have been reworked, refined, and relayered in a cumulative sense. Specifically, “Snow White” was retold in many different contexts and cultures before the opportunistic Brothers Grimm ever wrestled her into bold-faced type and made that bitch their own. Most versions of the story did somewhat resemble each other, but many other accounts of Snow White have taken a sharp diversion into the woods to reinvent the characters within. This tradition continues even today, and one need only visit the young adult section of the bookstore to see varied modern spins on the Brothers Grimm version of the story. Hell, even Neil Gaiman has penned his own version of the story, complete with vampirism and necrophilia, from a fearful stepmother’s perspective. While nothing quite that exciting takes place within Sydney White, if you’re worried that director Joe Nussbaum might turn this idealistic character into a two-bit whore, well, that’s already happened before. So, with all of the variance and slightly dubious scholarship concerning Show White, it certainly shouldn’t cause much offense when an ultimately harmless version for the college kids rolls around.
In Sydney White, a tale is woven that somewhat resembles the familiar Brothers Grimm take on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs substory. Our heroine, Sydney (Amanda Bynes), has been raised by her widowed father (the still enchanting John Schneider) since her mother died nine years ago. From an early age, Sydney accompanied her father on his construction and plumbing jobs, and in the process, she acquired a cross-eyed carpenter’s thumb that hardened over time under the protective gaze of her father’s fellow “wolvish” construction workers. The tomboyish young adult heads off to college at her mother’s alma mater, where despite herself, she hopes to become a member of her mother’s sorority. Sydney gets an automatic bid because of her legacy status, but Kappa Phi Nu president Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton) takes an instant dislike to Sydney when she first notices the unconventionally pretty girl in a formal dress and Converse sneakers talking to fraternity president Tyler Prince (Matt Long). Even though Sydney fulfills all pledge requirements during rush, Rachel finds a loophole in sorority policies and tosses Sydney out of the home during an induction ceremony. With nowhere else to go, Sydney is taken in by the inhabitants of a decrepit structure at the end of Greek Row called “The Vortex” — home to seven dorks.
Sydney settles into her new home with her newfound friends, who provide her with the warmth she expected from her mother’s old sorority. Although all of the seven dorks are rather smitten with Sydney, none of them initially treat her with anything more or less than grudging acceptance. Nor do these guys treat her as a sex object (as in Revenge of the Nerds) beyond the initial awe of her status as a girl. At first, each respective dork appears to be one-dimensional and representative only of his particular ailment, and even though each dork has an actual name, it’s pretty easy to match up their fairy tale counterparts. As the dorks warm to Sydney, we learn more about them: Sleepy (Donte Bonner) is a foreign exchange student who just can’t shake that everlasting jet lag, Sneezy (Jack Carpenter) is a somewhat hypochondriac allergy sufferer, and Grumpy (Danny Strong) is an ill-tempered blogger who rants into the ether. As the tale wears on, the dorks become rather protective of their new sister, and when Tyler Prince picks up Sydney for a first date, each dork lets Tyler know exactly how sorry he will be if Sydney is not treated well. The filmmakers have stealthily inserted modern counterparts to the magic mirror, poisoned apple, and kiss from a prince, and although the plot leaves little mystery in that Sydney will obviously find a way to overthrow the oligarchy, a few pleasant laughs occur along the way.
Sydney White isn’t a great film, but it’s pretty decent and stands out among its contemporary tween-oriented piles of cinematic crap (see, e.g., Bratz). Although the film suffers from a pretty slow beginning and could stand to lose about 10 minutes of background information, things start moving along quickly when Sydney arrives at college. The cast performances are respectable, although it would be nice to see Bynes pull her motherfucking hair out of her face and move on from her default role as a slightly amusing tomboy with an irritating voice. Fortunately, the supporting players steal several moments away from the star and her grating faults. Paxton departs from the wide-eyed mermaid she portrayed in Aquamarine and does well as the frigid sorority bitch. Long gives good Prince Charming in a very Jake Ryan sort of way. While the movie will appeal to tweens, parents of younger children would be wise to avoid it for the sexual innuendo, mild language, and the notion that Santa Claus does not exist. On that last detail, I just might never recover.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and insults Pete Doherty daily at agentbedhead.com.