**/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
starring Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton
screenplay by Jessica Bendinger and Kate Kondell
directed by Forest Whitaker
by Walter Chaw Forest Whitaker's First Daughter is so much better than the other two films this year dealing with the distaff fruit of the loins of the most powerful man in the free world (i.e., David Mamet's Spartan and Andy Cadiff's Chasing Liberty) that it's easy to make the mistake that the film is worth much of a damn. The sad fact of it is, there's nothing much at the centre of this babysitter's-club artifact. Saving it from the dustbin of total inconsequence, if only just, is its essential sense of decency and, of course, star Katie Holmes. She's not so much gifted, I think, as genuine-seeming--despite one's better judgment, you find yourself wishing her well. Holmes is able to batter defenses; the stratosphere isn't for her, but Anne Baxter had a pretty nice career, all things considered.
Sam (Holmes) has grown up in the White House and the public eye and now, as her father runs for a second term, she's preparing to head off to one of those movie universities where they never seem to hold a class unless someone should need to have some kind of epiphany. Growing pains in the form of broken hearts and drunken benders take on added import when the state of the union is involved, of course, but Whitaker wisely takes the edge off by framing his film like a fairytale, complete with "Once upon a time" opening and wise-old-storyteller closing. (The direction and Richard Chew's editing are innovative--and not always in a distracting way.) In between, Sam and love interest James (Marc Blucas) have one of those cute courtships that ends once a deception is revealed and then is rekindled in a public apology, while sassy slut roommate Mia (Amerie) enjoys a subplot of her own, playing a role that would be Maggie Gyllenhaal's were she not on the A-list nowadays.
The hell of it is that there's nothing overtly offensive about First Daughter. It doesn't go too far in portraying the general bacchanal of collegiate life in the twenty-first century, it never states its politics (it's therefore impossible to locate the Prez (Michael Keaton) as a satirical object), and it doesn't ultimately have anything to say beyond that it's important to eventually cut the apron strings. (Ergo, the film doesn't embarrass itself with any pretension.) First Daughter is a perfectly inoffensive little bauble that exists in a self-contained genre universe with no relationship to reality and no aspirations to be anything but a tidy money-maker for a couple of weekends before becoming a popular slumber-party rental. A lot of things could have been refined: the Mia character is complex enough to deserve more than a perfunctory Jane Austen conclusion; Sam is so hollow and empty a character that Holmes's buttermilk-scrubbed niceness looms large as the only reason she's not insipid; a couple of attempts on Sam's life are averted then never mentioned again; and so on. But then, a lot of things could have been worse--Mandy Moore could have starred in it, for one. It's a wash, is what I'm saying, and I wash my hands of it. I'll have forgotten it completely in a couple of days. If you're a thirteen-year-old girl, it might take you a whole week. Originally published: September 24, 2004.
First Daughter: widescreen vs. fullscreen (red-bordered inset)
Fox pulls the old Katie Holmes bait-and-switch with the cover design of their First Daughter DVD, Photoshopping her head from the film's iconic poster art onto some generic mall-princess body and further cluttering things up with Secret Servicemen and an unmoored White House insignia. MGM altered Pieces of April's one sheet for home video in much the same way, and I guess my frustration with these changes is that they epitomize anti-intellectualism--there's real canniness in the matter-of-fact images of Holmes that were used to market the theatrical releases of these films. No matter: Fox presents First Daughter in 1.83:1 anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen on opposite sides of a 'flipper.' Between the careless cropping and dodgy PQ, the latter is the legitimately inferior option, not to damn the 16x9 transfer to faint praise. (In fact, it looks almost as lovely as Ms. Holmes.) Surprisingly ambient Dolby Digital 5.1 audio complements both versions, as does a feature-length talent commentary with "My name's Katie... Holmes," Marc Blucas, and monomonikered Amerie.
In spite of my somewhat irrational devotion to Holmes, I simply cannot condone a listen of this soporific track, whose entertainment value peaks early--during the cap-friendly bikini scene. (Blucas: "I was gonna come by for lunch that day." Holmes: "Lunch.") On the fullscreen side, also find "The Final Score: Remembering Michael Kamen" (onscreen title: "The Last Score"), a synthetic 6-minute interview with the late composer's friend and colleague Blake Neely, who finished the score Kamen started writing for the film at director Forest Whitaker's behest. Flip the disc over to access "Fox Trot" (5 mins.), a featurette on First Daughter's dance numbers in which the notoriously modest Holmes downplays her formal ballet training and Michael Keaton reveals that he previously worked with choreographer Miranda Garrison on Multiplicity. Two extended scenes--the second of which sees Holmes shaking her groove thang in a PG-incompatible manner on top of a table (fox trot, indeed!)--round out the platter. Originally published: December 30, 2004.