Oh, Forest Whitaker, you big, brilliant actor. You who exploded on the screen in Platoon (1986), made yourself a young legend as jazz great Charlie Parker in Bird, engraved yourself forever in my memory as the doomed black British soldier in Crying Game (1992), and then proved you were just as good behind the camera with your directorial debut in Waiting to Exhale (1995) — why, oh why, did somebody as talented as you sign on to helm this silly, pointless, paint-by-numbers fairy tale?
Katie Holmes ( Pieces of April), 26, who plays the hapless daughter of the U.S. president, is talented and adorable, and looks gorgeous in ball gowns. But even filming a year ago at age 25, she could never be confused with an awkward 18-year-old leaving home (the White House) for the first time. That’s the most obvious suspension of disbelief you have to skirt around in this movie. The second is that the First Lady (Margaret Colin, Unfaithful) is about six inches taller than her husband, President Mackenzie (Michael Keaton, A Shot at Glory), and no male politician in his right mind would tolerate that from his wife. Then you have to pretend not to notice that incredibly handsome Marc Brucas (The Alamo), at 30-some years old, is the live-in (get that, live-in) advisor in a girl’s dorm. Yeah, sure.
Well-programmed Samantha Mackenzie (Holmes) has spent her whole life in the public eye and has been talking so long in sound-bites that she doesn’t really know if she has any thoughts of her own. The only thing she knows for sure is that she wants to be normal, be just like other kids. Well, that’s impossible. Not only is she the country’s princess, but she was always totally beloved by her parents, so even at that difficult time in her life when she wants to be grownup and independent, Samantha is still confident and sweet and actually likes her parents. There’s no way this girl could ever be interpreted as normal.
Anyway, Samantha has convinced her parents to allow her to go to college in California. There she meets her roommate, foul-mouthed, snotty African-Korean-American Mia Thompson (Amerie, in her film debut), who, fully looking her real age of 25, is supposed to be just three months out of high-school. Oh, pulleeeze!
Samantha gives normalcy her best shot. But it’s impossible with all those stern-eyed Secret Services agents following her around, or walking through all those rallies on campus where protestors claim her father is a moron. And let’s not mention her unbelievably prissy and totally uncool school clothes. Then Samantha gets friendly with James, the really cute guy (Brucas) who’s always sitting behind her in class. They play getting-to-know you word games for hours and run all over town chastely flirting with one another until you just want to scream, “Kiss her already, you dimwit!”
In two days, Samantha falls madly in love with James (of course), then invites Mia and him to fly with her back to Washington, D.C., aboard Air Force One. When James rescues her from an assassination attempt, Samantha discovers he’s (surprise, surprise) really a Secret Service agent. Back at college she throws a disgusting tissy fit — dancing drunk on a table in a whore outfit — and Mom orders her home to D.C. to work the final weeks of Dad’s reelection campaign.
But it’s a fairy tale, so Dad gets reelected, Mom’s hair doesn’t move a molecule, Mia dances with an African ambassador, James doesn’t get fired for locking lips with the president’s daughter, and Samantha drives off to California, not in a pumpkin carriage, but in a brand-new Bug-car with a cooler and beer.
Oh, gag me. Everyone in First Daughter, especially director Whitaker, deserves better than this.
— reviewed by Marci Miller