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First Daughter

You’ve heard the fairy tales about Snow White and Cinderella and all of those other princesses, as well as Pinnochio - you know, the one who wanted to be a real boy? Now meet Samantha who’s not quite a princess, but still wishes to be a real girl. I’ve never thought of the Presidential family as royalty, but I guess you could see it that way, although Republicans and Democrats alike might see the last couple of administrations as being full of jesters rather than kings and queens. That’s the way Forest Whitaker takes on the first family in First Daughter though, as a fairy tale about the President’s daughter Samantha (Katie Holmes). Like all good princesses, Samantha lived “once upon a time” (although it looks like modern day to me) and faced trials and tribulations (in this case adolescent awkwardness). After succeeding through all of that in the movie’s narration, Samantha goes off to college to hopefully experience a normal person’s life... a normal person followed by secret service agents that is.

As Samantha attempts to adapt to her new life, she finds she can’t seem to leave the life she left behind. She is, and always will be, the President’s daughter, and that wreaks havoc with her personal life. Her roommate Mia (Amerie) fluctuates between trying to show her a normal life and resenting her popularity, not seeming to understand that popularity is only about what Samantha is, not who, which is the problem Samantha has. That problem is intensified when she’s rescued from a group of roving reporters by James (Marc Blucas) who quickly becomes a love interest. James helps Samantha evade reporters and secret service men alike, and Samantha grows interested in him not only for his good looks and personality, but for how normal she gets to feel when he’s around. As always in fairy tales though, things aren’t always what they seem.

First Daughter’s first weakness is that while it presents itself as a fairy tale, it doesn’t do a good job of maintaining that illusion. Even in the opening narration where the fairy tale theme is first established, the theme fluctuates as it presents Samantha as being a princess who went through all of this “normal stuff”. If the writers had chosen to compare the life of the president’s daughter with everyone else that would have been one thing, or to stick with the fairy tale theme would have been another. Unfortunately the script changes back and forth between the two, which just ruins both ideas.

Secondly the story is both choppy and predictable. Anyone who is a Marc Blucas fan from his days in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’” is going to see his character’s big surprise coming a mile away, since it’s almost exactly the same character in this movie as his Riley Finn character from “Buffy”. The film jumps around and characters reference events that never happened. Riley... er, James asks Samantha why she was rummaging through his stuff, but that doesn’t happen, at least not on screen. Samantha’s roommate fluctuates wildly between being her friend and hating her popularity (and what kind of a name is Amerie anyway? What amateur actress gets to choose to go by one name? That should be reserved for more successful actresses like Madonna and Cher). Then there is the complete and total absurdity of certain moments of the movie, where secret service men appear and disappear without any explanation or cause, even though their presence is a huge part of the story. It’s hard to tell whether the story is just inconsistent, or whether there were added scenes that were just cut.

It’s unusual for me to comment much on a film’s soundtrack, but it’s another noticeable problem with the film. While Michael Kamen’s score definitely adds to the fairy tale motif of the film, the pop music soundtrack doesn’t seem to fit Samantha’s character at all. The R&B heavy soundtrack seems more appropriate for Amerie’s character then Katie Holmes, which just adds another nail in this film’s coffin.

I didn’t see First Daughter’s rival in the president’s-daughter-genre, Mandy Moore’s Chasing Liberty, but just placing actors against actors I’d say Daughter has a leg up on Liberty. The acting is pretty strong in Daughter after all. Unfortunately the themes and script aren’t enough to give the actors much to work with. You’ve got to do more than color coordinate the scenery with your lead character’s outfit in order to build a fairy tale. For me, First Daughter doesn’t deserve a second term. When a movie appears as choppy as this one does, DVD is often a chance for the film to redeem itself, offering a plethora of deleted scenes to fill in the blanks, or a director’s commentary to explain what should have happened if it wasn’t for those meddling studios. Unfortunately, none of that stuff is on this DVD release, making this a mediocre release at best, with extraneous extras just to claim they have a few.

The disc’s primary extras are two featurettes. One is about composer Michael Kamen, who passed away during the production of First Daughter. Protégé Blake Neely talks quite a bit about Kamen, and how he used what Kamen had written to add the fairy tale feel to the film. It’s a touching tribute to a man who passed on way too early. The second extra is a behind-the-scenes look... at the dances of the film. We don’t talk about the movie, or its story, or casting... just the dancing. Through conversations with Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, and the film’s choreographer you get the feeling that everyone thought Katie knew more about dancing then she does, and Marc is happy to have gotten free dancing lessons. That’s about it.

There are deleted scenes... well, extended scenes really - two of them. One of them adds about two extra lines into an already extraneous scene. Surprisingly the second one does help the film. There’s a scene in the movie where Samantha has a bit to drink and ends up dancing on top of a bar, causing headlines in the papers. The scene in the movie made it look like it was just her on a table, but thanks to the deleted scene you can see what the fuss was all about. Oh Katie Holmes, how many of my dreams you will occupy... I mean, it’s no The Gift, but still...

Other than those the only other extra to talk about is the commentary track, which doesn’t include director Forest Whitaker, but instead chooses to include cast members Holmes, Blucas, and Amerie. The audio track is just another example of why actors are the worst people to do commentary. They really have the least to do with most of the film, and although they may be what’s on screen, that’s pretty much all they are. None of the actors talk much about anything other than the fun they had making this. Creative decisions, alternate ideas, etc... these things are nowhere to be found, making this a very boring, disappointing commentary track.

First Daughter could have been a much more interesting film if the creative powers that be had taken a more unified approach to how they were telling the story. The same could be said for the DVD - if they had decided to make it interesting, it could have been a lot better. Instead you have a mediocre film on a drab DVD. If you have kids that might be interested in a modern day princess tale... check out The Princess Diaries. Send Katie Holmes a message by not buying this one - she’s better than this.