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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sydney White

How cute is Amanda Bynes (Hairspray)? She is like the anti-Lohan. You never hear about her getting busted with pockets lined in cocaine or found passed out drunk behind the wheel of her car. She’s never seen hanging out in nightclub men’s room stalls with “friends”, sniffing and snorting for hours on end, and she’s never been to rehab, yet alone twice ~ or is it three times now with Blohan? It’s so hard to keep track. No, Amanda Bynes is the type of girl who makes a person think of butterflies, Golden Retriever puppies, Dove soap, fresh flowers, and hugs from grandma. That’s just how sweet she is. There is something cherubic about her face that assures you that she is a sincerely nice and well-adjusted teenage girl. As such, she seems perfectly cast in Sydney White, the title role of the film of the same name, which is currently playing at the Essex Cinemas.

You probably haven’t even heard of Sydney White. It must be the fall’s biggest secret. Obviously, the studio, Morgan Creek, either has no faith in the film’s success or they are on the verge of bankruptcy and have no money in the budget left to publicize it because I never even heard of it before arriving at the Essex Cinemas on Friday, and I usually know about upcoming releases months in advance. This little movie snuck in so quietly I doubt even Bynes’ core audience was aware of its’ impending arrival. This would be a shame because Sydney White, while hardly a blockbuster, is a cute little bit of fluff for teens and younger who are bound to enjoy what is a modern day re-telling of the Snow White tale, this time set in the present day on a college campus.

The clever twists on the Snow White story are subtle yet plentiful enough to make sure that even the dimmest of those in the audience ought to grasp the concept. The “Queen” of the “must-belong” sorority Sydney pledges to is Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton; The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker), a neurotic blonde beauty who checks a “Hot or Not?” web site a dozen times a day to make sure she maintains her status as “Number One Hottie” at the University. Consider this a 21st century version of being “the fairest of them all” even if it sounds a whole lot less poetic.

Naïve Sydney arrives at the sorority with the hope of honoring her late mother by following in her footsteps and becoming a member of her mother’s sisterhood, but when Sorority and Student Council President Rachel sees that her ex-beau-would-be-recaptured-and-made-present-beau, Tyler Prince (Matt Long; Ghost Rider), is apparently interested in Sydney, she manufactures a flurry of excuses to banish the new girl from the house and then humiliates her in front of all the pledges and their dates at a formal ball welcoming the pledges into the fold.

With nowhere to go, Sydney is cast out into a hard rain and is eventually taken in by the residents of a dilapidated old home at the end of Greek Row. The Vortex, as it is known, is home to seven
misfits, outcasts from the rest of the school, but each and every one charming in his own way. They may not physically be dwarves but they obviously suffer from social shortcomings, which Sydney slowly changes through her sincere sweetness and caring. She helps bashful Jeremy (Adam Hendershott; Big Bad Wolf) overcome his inability to talk without the use of a hand puppet as his spokesman, quiets grumpy Spanky (Samm Levine; Pulse) from his raging temper tantrums, keeps George’s (Arnie Pantoja; 99) bursts of manic happy energy at a manageable level, slowly cures exchange student Embele (Donté Bonner; The Karaoke King) of his jet lag and resulting narcolepsy, and,…well, you get the idea. Each of the guys in the house represents one of the original seven dwarves of the Snow White fable and their particular “talents” play into the eventual retribution that will fall upon the evil Witchburn.

Most of the fun along the way is in looking for the “fingerprints” of the original story on this tale. The infamous “poison apple” the wicked witch delivers to Snow White that causes her to fall into a deep sleep has an ingenious interpretation here that is better than you could possibly imagine while remaining as true to the actual words if not meaning of the words in the Brothers Grimm story. You’ll also laugh out loud at the entirely different interpretation of the “dwarves” greeting “Hi Ho” than Disney ever envisioned in his 1939 animated feature film. Let’s just say that the inclusion of a single comma in a sentence can certainly change its entire meaning, if you know what I mean, and I think that you do.

The rumor in the press is that the original script for this film was a lot raunchier and was meant to
be told with a Wedding Crashers tone to it, but Bynes nixed starring in it until the script was cleaned up so that it was something she could feel comfortable taking her little sister to see. Whether that is true or just spin is anyone’s guess, but I’d like to think it is the case. I certainly can’t see Lindsay making a demand such as that. She’d more likely than not insist on the addition of a few nude scenes and a guaranteed stream of profanities every tenth line of dialogue. Fortunately for us, she has absolutely nothing to do with this production, and so you can rest assured that this will make for a pleasant enough outing for just about anyone, but certainly a crowd-pleaser for mothers and daughters looking to spend some time to share together during an afternoon or an evening out, full of laughs and warm feelings for one another.

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