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Case Number 17724

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Wild Child

Universal // 2009 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 17th, 2009

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All Rise...

"Why must wacky hijinks always ensue?" Judge Clark Douglas wonders wistfully.

The Charge

American Princess + British Boarding School = Big Trouble!

Opening Statement

"You're a rich girl and you've gone too far, cause you know it don't matter anyway."—Hall & Oates

Facts of the Case

Poppy (Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew) is the spoiled teenage daughter of a wealthy businessman (Aidan Quinn, Legends of the Fall). One day, Poppy plays a nasty prank on her daddy's new girlfriend, and daddy gets incredibly angry. "You're going to boarding school in England!" he declares. "Ewww!" she responds. Within days, Poppy finds herself enrolled in a stuffy English boarding school wearing a stuffy English school uniform. Though Poppy initially hates her new surroundings, she's determined to teach her stuffy classmates how to party, Malibu-style! Little does Poppy know that she's the one who will be learning a few lessons.

The Evidence

Wow, I really hated this movie. I mean, I didn't exactly expect a film like Wild Child to be a tremendously wonderful motion picture. I figured it would probably be a fairly bland formula picture geared at the young teenage girl market. While it is indeed a formula picture geared at that very market, I'm sorry to say that it isn't fairly bland. It's gratingly horrible, forcing the viewer to spend 98 minutes with a genuinely unlikable lead character wandering through a truly idiotic screenplay.

The story is allegedly about the redemption of a spoiled brat, but the problem is that the movie lets her off the hook much too easily during the first two acts. Sure, Poppy is a thoroughly nasty teenage girl, but she's an American! The movie is far more interested in cruelly making fun of English girls who dream of being Elizabeth Bennett than in making fun of bitchy American girls who panic when they run out of hand sanitizer. Perhaps writer Lucy Dahl (daughter of the inimitable Roald Dahl) is attempting to compensate for years of films in which the British have been portrayed as superior to Americans, but she certainly picked the wrong elements of both countries to praise and condemn.

The central conflict in the film is between Poppy and a girl named Harriet (Georgia King, The Duchess), the previously unchallenged social queen of the high school. Now, Harriet is not a particularly nice girl, and she is the sort of character just begging to be toppled in a teen flick like this one, but the problem is that she is actually no less appealing that Poppy. In fact, I would argue that Poppy is an even nastier and less appealing person than Harriet, but for some reason Poppy's mean-spirited actions are portrayed as cute while Harriet's similarly ugly actions are depicted as the reprehensible acts that they are. The whole battle climaxes in an appalling third act plot twist in which one of the school's buildings is set on fire.

The acting is generally unimpressive throughout. I found Emma Roberts to be terribly miscast, as she just doesn't seem well-suited to playing a Paris Hilton-esque figure (she was considerably more convincing as the intelligent and independent Nancy Drew). "I've never played a part like this before," Roberts says in the making-of featurette. Emma, please don't play a part like this again. The many young English actresses in the films are forced to play broad stereotypes, never feeling like real people. Aidan Quinn has absolutely nothing of interest to do in his two scenes, while Nick Frost's blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as an eccentric hairdresser doesn't really work. The film's only saving grace is the late Natasha Richardson, who generates warmth and sincerity during every one of her scenes as the firm but kind Mrs. Kingsley. I really do hate that this waste of celluloid was Richardson's final film, as it's simply not anywhere near worthy of the actress's gifts.

The DVD transfer is excellent, conveying the vibrant color scheme with clarity and detail. Though I'm not necessarily a big fan of the film's cheap, glossy visual vibe (the film looks like it was produced by Claire's), it certainly does pop off the screen. Blacks are reasonably deep, shading is stellar, and flesh tones look natural. The audio is also strong, despite a few bits of dialogue that are somewhat drowned out in the mix. The predictable pop selections come through with particular strength, and audio is distributed nicely. Special features include an audio commentary with Lucy Dahl and director Nick Moore (what a wonderful film this is, what a wonderful time they had making it), an EPK-style "Making-Of Featurette" (11 minutes), 20 minutes of deleted scenes, a 2-minute tour of the set with actress Georgia King, another 2-minute tour of the set with Emma Roberts, 4 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from the lacrosse match that ends the film, and a 3-minute gag reel.

Closing Statement

Watching this film gave me a stress headache.

The Verdict

Guilty. Where's the Tylenol?

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 88
Extras: 75
Acting: 55
Story: 5
Judgment: 30

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Bad
• Drama
• Romance
• Teen

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes
• Interviews
• Gag Reel
• Bonus Footage


• IMDb

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