Wild Child
dir Nick Moore
scr Lucy Dahl
with Emma Roberts, Natasha Richardson, Kimberley Nixon, Juno Temple, Sophie Wu, Linzey Cocker, Alex Pettyfer, Georgia King, Shirley Henderson, Aidan Quinn, Daisy Donovan, Nick Frost
release UK 15.Aug.08
08/UK Universal
Wild Child
Not-so mean girls: Wu, Nixon and Roberts

richardson pettyfer henderson
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Wild Child Bright and silly, with just enough wit and intelligence to make it watchable, this British-American teen comedy doesn't break much new ground, but is pretty entertaining while it lasts.

Poppy (Roberts) is a spoiled rich Malibu teen who has finally pushed her single dad (Quinn) too far. He sends her to an isolated boarding school in England, where she's instantly the outsider, becoming the chief nemesis of head girl Harriet (King). But the headmistress (Richardson) clearly likes her, and she bonds with her roommates (Nixon, Temple, Wu and Cocker) when they agree to help her get expelled so she can go home. Of course, these developing friendships, plus a crush on the headmistress' son (Pettyfer) make her question everything.

There's actually something pink and fluffy in the opening shot, which gives us an idea what kind of movie this will be. And indeed, the first act is a corny play on Clueless and Mean Girls, complete with an overplayed American ignorance of all things British (and vice versa). As Poppy arrives in England with her antibacterial handwash at the ready, we worry that this is just going to be another stupid fish-out-of-water tale with teen girls clawing at each other. The nice surprise is that it actually develops into something far more interesting.

Sure, all of the usual characters are here, and while most are fairly underdeveloped, some manage to emerge in intriguing ways, mainly due to a sharp snap that runs throughout writer Dahl's dialog. Roberts' stiffness as the high-maintenance brat in the early scenes gives way to a much more relaxed and involving performance as Poppy starts to find herself. The young actresses who play her friends find hidden depths in their characters. And Roberts and the still slightly too-pretty Pettyfer play the budding romance with just the right balance of friendship and swooning.

It all gets a bit predictably emotional in the final act, as everything comes crashing down on our hero, friendships are strained to the breaking point and everyone mopes their way to a ludicrous "I am Spartacus" moment (can't they make a school movie without one of these scenes?). But the final scenes are surprisingly genuine, and more than make up for the contrivances that get us there.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 28.Jul.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall