Amanda Bynes is unique for a young comedienne, because she is actually a little scary. Watching her, we have the vague sense that she is supposed to be beautiful, a burgeoning bombshell, but it just doesn’t work somehow — first of all, her painted-on grin and weirdly tan skin makes her look like a doll. But more importantly, her face is comically, grotesquely expressive, every smile and grimace exaggerated and launched at us like a missile. She’s funny in an unpolished way, and we think that given strong material she could take on an appealing sort of Lucille Ball quality.
Sadly, she seems to have a knack for choosing material that is the opposite of strong. Weak. Wait, no: awful. Sydney White is her worst yet and the worst of the year, hateful, lazy, unfunny, and intolerable. It’s what happens when a one-line pitch — a modernized version of Snow White to teach people about the virtues of being dorky! — simply does not progress any farther. Man, but I hated this movie.
First: how unimaginative and confused do you have to be to write a movie extolling the virtues of being a misfit and then, with a straight face, make the majority of the misfits mentally retarded? This is not to say that one cannot make a very good movie with mentally retarded characters, or that said characters cannot be sympathetic. But Sydney White of course is not interested in that — rather it comes up with its “dwarves,” whom Sydney rescues from the evil witch (in this case a snotty sorority sister obsessed with being the perennial winner of the campus “hot or not” ranking), by exaggerating and perverting the “nerd” stereotype beyond recognition. These aren’t people, they’re walking disasters — one talks only via a hand-puppet. I hasten to add that I am not being mean here: the movie gives them no dignity, no character, no wit, nothing to make us interested or sympathetic. If it’s satire, I wonder what it’s satirizing. If it’s the film’s idea of the lives of college-age outcasts, the kind of people who don’t join fraternities, then that’s just sad.
Sydney goes off to college intent on joining her late mother’s old sorority, only to discover that it’s filled with a bunch of shallow, hateful, conformist airheads, quaking under the iron fist of the evil Rachel Witchburn (Sarah Paxton). Fine, but then giving Sydney a dead mother who was a proud “Legacy” is a chickenshit move, a manufactured reason for Sydney to stick around despite the horror unfolding allow her. By the time the movie gets to what I assume is the point — Rachel wants to destroy the “Vortex” (the shack where the “dorks” live, I guess because no place else will have them) to build a “Greek Life Center,” and ropes in Tyler Prince (Matt Long), the reigning fraternity stud who takes an interest in Sydney, as an unwilling accomplice — boredom takes over. Pretty people are mean to the less pretty people, yes. But Sydney White doesn’t have the laughs to keep us engaged, or the characters to make us care.
This is the kind of movie that makes me actively angry. It’s stupid and lame, but it’s also offensive — to anyone who goes to the movies to feel something, to be transported somewhere, to watch talent or imagination at work. Sydney White has a concept and a title, but beyond that it draws a blank.