Originals and Remakes – The Reluctant Debutante (1958) vs. What A Girl Wants (2003)

Some movie remakes are very similar to the original movie but different enough to warrant a viewing. How many versions of King Solomon’s Mines did I see at the Naro earlier this week (Three, if you’re wondering)? And from what I remember, Miracle on 34th Street 1947 and 1994 were pretty similar too, just in a different time period. I’ve yet to see The Preacher’s Wife to be able to compare that with the Cary Grant-starring The Bishop’s Wife, but that’s a Christmas-themed movie, so we’ll be watching and comparing those later this year!

Other movie remakes have loose connections to the original source material. The basic story of Freaky Friday 1976 and 2003 remain the same (a bickering mother and daughter switch bodies for a day to literally live in the other person’s shoes), but how they switch places, among other changes in the newer version such as a larger subplot with the mom getting remarried and the tribulations of high school are a little different. Jamie Lee Curtis as the mom doesn’t have to take a typing class in school, like in the original, for example.

I bring this up because the next two movies that we watched for this originals and remakes project are definition loose adaptations, such as Freaky Friday ’03. However, at least Freaky Friday ’03 has some similarities to the original. The Reluctant Debutante and What A Girl Wants, the loose adaptations in question? Not so much. In fact, so many changes were made between the original and the remake that it’s almost not worth it to call the newer version a remake.

More like an “inspired by.”

I had no idea going into this other movie project that What A Girl Wants was a remake of anything. When I saw it on the Wikipedia list of movies and their respective remakes, I gave it a double take. What a Girl Wants a remake of a Sandra Dee movie from 1958? Hmmmm, interesting. Certainly the plots sounded sort of similar on Wikipedia when I clicked through. Both involve a young American girl in Britain and debutante balls. Hmmmm….

So what did I think of a teen movie from the early 00s and its original “incarnation,” a Sandra Dee movie from the 50s? And which version did we like better?

Let’s find out!

The Reluctante Debutante (1958)


The big question after watching this movie:

Why is this movie not considered an absolute classic???

First and foremost, you have Rex Harrison doing a “why are people acting silly about a stupid ball” kind of character (man does he play those kind of world-weary characters so well!). His character steals the show for me. His “I couldn’t care less about these stupid social conventions” attitude had both Andrew and I laughing throughout the movie.

There’s also beautiful cinematography (set in London but shot in Paris due to Rex Harrison’s tax issues that prevented him from being in England) and equally beautiful dresses.

A dry sense of humor running throughout the whole thing that pokes fun at social conventions.

Sandra Dee playing a teenager as a teenager (though she does look to be about twelve years old in this; a bit weird for a character who’s supposed to be seventeen).

A young Angela Lansbury starting to look more like the Angela Lansbury I remember from Murder, She Wrote reruns.

Oh and did I mention Rex Harrison?

The movie opens with Jimmy Broadbent (Rex Harrison) and his new wife Sheila (Kay Kendall, who became Rex’s real-life wife just prior to filming) going to the airport to pick up his daughter, Jane Broadbent (our lovely Sandra Dee) who’s been living in America. Jane is going to be living with her father, who is exceedingly wealthy. And since she’s now living with them, Sheila takes it upon herself to introduce her stepdaughter to society. Cue the endless array of fancy balls and equally fancy dresses while Jimmy hangs out at the bar and gets as drunk as possible, to our amusement.

Jane isn’t interested in her stepmother’s social activities. She attends the balls, but is bored by all the guys she meets. That is, until she meets a drummer, David Parkson, who has a reputation of “leading girls astray,” a reputation that turns out to be unwarranted. Despite David P’s reputation, Jane falls in love with him, much to her stepmother’s chagrin. Sheila tries to keep the two apart, but it doesn’t work. Meanwhile, another David (last name Fenner) has fallen for Jane, but she openly dislikes him.

I found this to be an absolutely delightful movie. Not only was the dialogue witty and interesting, but also the cinematography, as mentioned before, was gorgeous (I LOVED the Broadbents’ apartment!) and the characters were all interesting people who I actually cared about. I would be very interested to see this on stage in its original stage-play form. The lack of frequent cut scenes and the abundance of dialogue led me to wonder, within the first few minutes of the movie, if this was an adaptation of a play. And I was right (thank you, Internet!). Some people might be bored by the incessant talking, but I was not. I did find it hard to hear in places, but that also was the quality of the DVD. Which I will get to in a moment.

If you enjoy movies with elements of farce, older movies, and/or interesting characters, definitely give this one a look!

However, be aware that this movie is harder to find.

To find this movie, you will have to either visit your local video store, if you still have one in your area, go on Amazon, or get it straight from Warner Brothers’ website, which is probably where the Amazon listing gets this movie anyway. This movie is only available on a manufacture-on-demand basis. Meaning what you’ll get is a burned DVD-R that’s purple on the bottom rather than a clear DVD like what you can buy at Wal-Mart. Not saying that burned DVDs are bad, but it just means that the menu will be pretty sparse (no captions were available, sad for me, because I definitely had trouble hearing some of the dialogue) and it may or may not work in certain players, as was the case with me. I had to play the DVD on my laptop because it wouldn’t play in my regular DVD player.

But at least I got it to work!

And at least burn-on-demand is even available for more obscure movies like this. Better to keep it alive in some way so that other people can see it!

So what about the remake, What A Girl Wants, which is decidedly easier to find than The Reluctant Debutante?

Well….. Ummmmm…..

What A Girl Wants (2003)


It’s been ages since I last saw this movie. I watched it as a teenager some time after it had been released and while it wasn’t a new favorite, I didn’t hate it. I preferred John Hughes movies back then, since I was super into 80s music and culture (and still am!). Not to mention I thought they were better made than the teen movies that were being made when I was a teenager (I still think that!). But I digress.

What you have here is your basic fish-out-of-water story. Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes), an American who grew up with only her mom, flies on a whim to see her father, Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), whom she has never met. Since she’s a young American, all sorts of plot points happen when she tries to get used to British life. Her father’s soon-to-be mother-in-law tells her no hugs because “I’m British.” Daphne doesn’t understand why everyone is so uptight, especially when she has to go to several coming-out parties for the teenagers in her father’s social circles. Also, her father is trying to get ahead as a politician, and the existence of this previously unknown daughter on his doorstep is more than a little surprising for him and the press. All the while, Daphne has fallen in love with Ian Wallace, an aspiring singer/songwriter that she met on her first day in London, and her dad’s fiancée is anything but pleased about having Daphne, a loud American teenager, running around the house.

This version sort of begins like The Reluctant Debutante. A young girl of about seventeen comes to Britain to live with her rich dad. Sure, we get a backstory on her and why Daphne doesn’t live with her dad, a backstory that doesn’t exist in The Reluctant Debutante (Daphne’s mom and dad married on a whim when they met in Morocco, then Daphne’s mom left him because she didn’t fit into his world and his secretary, unknown to Henry, makes her leave, then after she left him, she realized she was pregnant, so she raised Daphne by herself and never contacted the baby daddy again). But in those first fifteen minutes, we get some similarity to the original. Also, Daphne meets a musician, though this time he’s a guitarist, and they start to fall in love. She also comes out to society and has a debutante ball held in her honor.

So far, similar, right?

Well…. that’s about all this movie has to do with The Reluctant Debutante.

Everything else about this movie is on a different planet than its original source material.

The dad who thinks all these social conventions are silly? Nope. The dad is very much into the social conventions of his rich position as a politician running for a position in the House of Commons so that he can become Prime Minister one day.

The American girl? She’s still seventeen, but she’s a 2003 teenager, so she’s into the teen pop music of the day, dresses in jeans and spaghetti strap tops, is loud, and, for some reason, the writers decided to make her super klutzy. Seriously. What is it with teen stories making their female characters klutzy?

The musician she falls in love with is still a musician, but he plays guitar and there is no indication that her mom and dad don’t want her to hang out with him.

I still don’t consider this a favorite. Some might say I disliked this movie because I’m out of the target demographic. No, I don’t think that’s the case. Come on, I write Young Adult fiction, so I’m in the heads of teenagers all the time. It has its sweet moments, like the bonding scenes between Daphne and her dad, but for the most part, I found this to be only OK. The writing wasn’t very good in parts, which is what really did it for me. I felt like the writers relied too much on the stereotype of the “loud American” and the “cold Brit” to really make it a good movie. There wasn’t much to these characters to make them truly interesting. And the plot holes. Why did Daphne’s mom spend so much time pining away when she could’ve just called Henry? Daphne and her mom live in a tiny apartment in New York City and don’t have much money, but somehow, Daphne can afford to do a spur-of-the-moment trip to Britain?

Compared with The Reluctant Debutante, this movie is very teen-oriented, much more than the original play/movie that this was based on. Faster editing. Modern pop music. More informal conversation. I only saw vague connections with this movie to the original source material. I would call it a stretch to consider this a remake.

And of these two movies, our favorite was The Reluctant Debutante by far!