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Sydney White
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Goodness Gracious, An Adequate Ball Of Fire"
4 stars

Of all the countless young performers that have appeared on the scene in the last few years thanks to the influx of such tween-driven networks as the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, I think that I might have to say that, with the possible exception of Anne Hathaway (who has by now graduated to more adult fare anyway), Amanda Bynes is my favorite of the bunch and not because she has so far managed to navigate the pitfalls of adolescent stardom without winding up in rehab or splashed across the Internet in pantie-free paparazzi shots. No, I like her because over the course of a handful of films, she has shown herself to be equipped with a bright smile, a genuine sense of comic timing and the kind of effortlessly cheerful personality that can inspire even the most relentlessly cynical and hard-hearted of viewers to root for her to triumph against whatever candy-coated adversity she might find herself up against. This is not to say that such vehicles as “What A Girl Wants” and “She’s The Man” (I am deliberately leaving “Hairspray” out of the equation as that was clearly not designed as a vehicle for her, although her supporting turn as Penny Pingleton was one of that film’s true high points) are classics of the teen comedy genre but largely because of her considerable efforts, they have turned out to be far better than they might have been in the hands of the kind of ordinary starlet who is more concerned with looking pretty than in winning audiences over

If you somehow doubt my words or if you have never experienced an Amanda Bynes vehicle for yourself–and unless you are a tween, the parent/legal guardian of a tween or someone professionally obligated to watch all tween-based entertainment, I suppose there is no real reason why you should–I would like to point you in the direction of her latest effort, the silly campus comedy “Sydney White.” Like most of her previous efforts, it is a fairly silly and pedestrian effort that is predictable as can be and not just because it is a loose retelling of an already familiar tale. (You will recall, or maybe you will not, that “What A Girl Wants” was a remake of the deathless classic “The Reluctant Debutante” and “She’s the Man” gave us a contemporary riff of Shakespeare’s equally deathless “Twelfth Night.”) There is not one punchline that you cannot see coming a mile away, not one heartstring that isn’t violently plucked and every single character pretty much gets exactly what they deserve in the end. Ordinarily, such by-the-numbers filmmaking would frustrate and annoy me but in the case of “Sydney White,” I didn’t really mind the predictability so much because Bynes pretty much drags the entire enterprise over the finish line with her combination of grace, pluck and good humor–by most critical standards, this is a pretty dumb movie but thanks to her efforts, I was too busy being entertained to really mind that much.

This time around, the familiar property in question is the fairy tale “Snow White” but instead of dark forests and magical kingdoms, the story is set in the world of one of those college campuses that is only seen in the movies where everyone seems to have only one class to attend–luckily for them, the entire school appears to have only one teacher, so it all works out for everyone. Our heroine is Sydney White (Bynes), an adorable working-class girl who has been raised by her loving plumber father (John Schneider) and a cadre of construction worker buddies since the sad death of her mother a decade earlier. As the film opens, Sydney is off to college and plans to join the sorority that her mother once belonged to when she went to the same school. Alas, her dreams of the eternal bonds of sisterhood and all-night tickle fights are shattered when she finds both the house and the entire campus system under the thumb of sorority president Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton), a nasty uber-blonde whose biggest concerns in life are making sure that the “wrong” people are kept out of the sorority and making sure that she remains #1 on the school’s “Are You Hot?” poll on MySpace. Needless to say, Sydney is not prime sorority sister material in her eyes but since she is a legacy, Rachel is forced to allow her to pledge and tries to drive her out with a series of harrowing-but-PG-13-friendly initiation tasks–one involves Celine Dion songs and lunch meat while another requires her to pick up a guy at random for a “date” and then cruelly dump at the restaurant while sticking him with the bill. (In my day, this was known as “an ordinary Friday night.”) Miraculously, Sydney not only survives all of this but becomes an increasingly popular figure on campus (again, this is where the whole one-class-per-semester thing really helps out) and with campus stud (and former Rachel boyfriend) Tyler Prince (Matt Long)–so much so, in fact, that Rachel begins to feel her reign as the top girl in school is in jeopardy. To that end, she uses trumped-up charges to bar Sydney from the sorority for good and forces her out into the streets in front of everyone. (If you have guessed that it begins to rain as soon as she leaves, you may well have a future in writing Amanda Bynes vehicles.)

Before long, she turns up at a ramshackle campus building known as The Vortex, a barely-standing structure that house seven gawky campus outcasts–one is an angry and paranoid blogger, another is a Nigerian who still hasn’t adjusted to the time change after three years, one is allergic to virtually everything and one is always conducting the kind of scientific experiments that would have given the guys in “Real Genius” pause–who just don’t fit in anywhere else. (Of course, they would probably be far more popular if they actually bothered to tell people that they count among their possessions the original “Star Wars” arcade game, one of the greatest coin-op video games ever made.) Sydney moves in and takes it upon herself to whip the guys into shape by taking them to the gym, forcing them to interact with the other members of the school body and running them for the student government in a direct challenge to Rachel’s tyrannical reign. As a result of all of this, Sydney becomes the most popular girl on campus and Rachel devises a final master plan to get rid of her and her loyal band of dorks once and for all–without going into specifics, it does involve such fairy tale-inspired details as a deep sleep and a variation of a poisoned apple along with more mundane touches such as humiliating the guys in public via the horrors of public nudity, having the Vortex condemned (which, to be fair, probably should have been razed when it went to piece during the Johnson administration–Andrew, not Lyndon) and convincing her that Troy, whom Sydney has become increasingly sweet on, has been helping her in her efforts .As for how it ends, I will only note that if you have enough firing synapses to have gotten to this point in your reading, you can probably fill in the rest of the blanks for yourself.<

Okay, so as contemporized remakes of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” go, it is unlikely that anyone will be confusing “Sydney White” with “Ball of Fire” anytime soon. Because it is essentially aimed at young girls who no doubt dream of one day going off to join a sorority and catching the eye of the campus stud, it pretty much avoids any really biting satirical material about the collegiate Greek system–some of the biggest laughs to be had are the inadvertent ones that come from the film’s efforts to convince us that the BMOC is really a sweet and soulful person after all. (Even if you like the rest of the movie, you are going to find yourself groaning in derision when you see where Troy takes Sydney on their first date.) The depravations of our villainess are too overscaled to really be believed–while it is hardly a secret that campus Greek systems may get an unfair advantage on some college campuses, it is unlikely that any school would cheerfully back Rachel’s plan for an exclusive campus center that appears to combine the best aspects of Club Med and the Pentagon. The film’s admonition that it is more important to be yourself than to change in order to fit someone else’s vision of what you should be is a noble one but it seems to be at odds with both the events that occur in the finale and the cartoonish way that such outsiders are presented throughout. (The Jewish group that we see in a montage is such an over-the-top caricature that you keep waiting to see a shot of them selling diamonds during Rush Week instead of cupcakes.)

These are all problems, to be sure, and they probably would have sunk a lesser film but in the case of “Sydney White,” they don’t do that much damage because there is enough good stuff on display to pick up the slack. As I mentioned before, Amanda Bynes pretty much carries the entire movie on her shoulders with her undeniably winning performance–she knows how to pull off the physical comedy bits, she knows how to makes us feel badly for her when things aren’t going well without letting things fall into mawkishness and when she gets a good line to deliver, she has the kind of timing that allows her to knock it out of the park. As for the rest of the rest of the film, it has the cheerfully amiable spirit and rag-tag energy of one of those old knockabout musical-comedies from the 1940's that were never considered classics but which can be awfully fun to watch when you stumble upon them late at night on TCM. (In fact, there are so many moments involving the various fraternities and sororities breaking out into elaborately choreographed footwork and a capella recitations that you wonder why director Joe Nussbaum just didn’t go for broke and turn the entire thing into a musical.) And every once in a while, a really funny line or bit will float in out of nowhere and pretty much blindsides us–the sight of a flashback in which Sydney’s father uses the tools of his trade to explain the mysteries of the female reproductive system is one that I probably won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

If you have never seen an Amanda Bynes vehicle before, I suspect that you will not be breaking that streak by catching “Sydney White” and I guess I can’t really argue that position. And yet, I would still suggest that you at least consider checking it out because while it may not be the most profound film around, it is undeniably entertaining. It is as silly and frivolous as can be, I’ll admit, but at the same time, it does have a good heart and a nice sense of humor and as silly teen-oriented comedies go, it manages to get its laughs without hitting the gross-out material too hard. Even if you don’t buy all of that, it is still pretty much worth the admission price to hear the moment in which the immortal “Heigh-ho” line is deployed–a bit that may inspire even the most evil of stepmothers may into cracking a grin.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16635&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/21/07 00:00:00
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User Comments

5/13/08 carly good.. i like the man 5 stars
4/15/08 chantel solomon i loved thisd movie she was wondeful and she expressed a very imoprtant message in this mov 5 stars
1/12/08 T -dawg are you kidding me? 1 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Tired retread of geeks-vs-Greeks cliches. Some clever touches, but few and far between. 2 stars
9/25/07 Kevin Clarke LOVED this film 4 stars
9/23/07 Emily Definitely a girly film, but still cute and harmless to the right crowd. At least I had fun 3 stars
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  21-Sep-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 22-Jan-2008



Directed by
  Joe Nussbaum

Written by
  Chad Creasy

  Amanda Bynes
  Sara Paxton
  Matt Long
  Samm Levine
  John Schneider

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