Reviews

First Daughter (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

This is the film's premise, that Sam's existence is simultaneously ideal and outrageous, typical and desirable.


First Daughter

Director: Forest Whitaker
Cast: Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon Fuqua
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2005-01-25
I like the long dresses I got to wear.
-- Katie Holmes, commentary, First Daughter

"This was a shot on Friday night... at... 2am?" Such are the fond memories mentioned by the members of the First Daughter DVD commentary team. Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, and Amerie ("One name," notes Blucas, "like Madonna") share their insights and jokes, adorably. Which is appropriate, given that the film features Ms. Holmes at her most adorable in Forest Whitaker's by-the-booked romantic comedy. Whether dressed in gown and tiara or slacks and pert jacket, she recalls no one so much as Audrey Hepburn circa Roman Holiday, all long limbs, elegant angles, and graceful neck. It's a treat just to look at her.

But then she has this unwieldy plot around her. The president's daughter, Samantha MacKenzie, has grown up in the public eye, not by her own choice, as she reminds her mother Melanie (Margaret Colin), but because of those choices made by her parents. Sweet, uncomplaining, and relentlessly well-behaved, Sam endures groundbreakings, student assemblies, and Rose Garden photo ops, supporting her father (Michael Keaton), smiling alongside her mother, their outfits and poses coordinated.

Whitaker begins the film with his own voiceover, narrating Sam's life as a fairytale: she's "a little girl just like any other little girl," entertaining her Secret Service detail -- bald Agent Bock (Michael Milhoan) and silent Agent Dylan (Dwayne Adway) -- with frogs and tea parties, happily ensconced with her loving if distracted parents in a Big White House. The film begins as Sam is leaving for (a fictional) college, 3,000 miles away in California, eager to begin a life of her own, even if she does have to be attended by agents every minute -- and oh yes, even if her father is running for reelection, which means that no matter no matter how far away she might be, Sam must be on her best behavior.

At school, she encounters the requisite black roommate, Mia (Amerie), who encourages her to be adventurous, to go to parties and seek out hot boys. Sam has never done much of this, so she's both appalled and intrigued by Mia's vivacity, going so far as to attend a water-sliding fete, where's she photographed by paparazzi looking rather wild. Dad has his sensible assistant Liz (Lela Rochon Fuqua) sort it out, because he has so much on his mind that he can't handle his own daily life details. "Tensions are high," Liz advises Sam, concerning the election year, but alluding to the girl's demands as well.

Just what other stuff the president might be trying to contain is neatly left out of First Daughter, which never quite gets to articulating his "stance on education" or his "position on the environment." The film has Sam allude to dad's "domestic agenda," only to be shut up: "Blah blah blah, end of sound bite," admonishes Mia when Sam uses this phrase. Sam also suffers some anti-MacKenzie activism, one in the form of a campus rally where the featured denouncer is played by Parry Shen ("This was like, at seven in the morning, remember?" says Amerie). The second, completely weirdly, comes when a car crashes into a red-carpet event, leading to Sam's immediate evacuation from the scene -- what the crash might have meant is never mentioned: was it a suicide bomber or what?

The film's other omission of recent history has to do with MacKenzie's predecessor in the Oval Office. While First Daughter raises the specter of "history" only to renounce it. Dad refers to Chelsea's sojourn at Stanford, suggesting that, while her Secret Service guys could "blend in," with long hair and Birkenstocks, such subtlety is now impossible, as he and Sam live in "a different time." The insinuation is that Sam's at greater risk than Chelsea was then, that these "times" are somehow exponentially more dangerous, but no one refers to 9/11 or the Bush administration, apparently erased in this alternate non-reality. While irrelevant to the movie's primary business -- getting Sam hooked up -- this little bit of political context by way of erasure is of a piece with the film's "fairytale" apparatus, the sense that it takes place out of time and dislocated from any recognizable experience.

At some level, this is the film's premise, that Sam's existence is simultaneously ideal and outrageous, typical and desirable. She begins to think about all of this when she meets and falls for her RA, James (Marc Blucas). Their romance proceeds by one conventional moment after another, complete with corny montage sequences: those crazy kids elude photographers and agents, go for pizza ("It tastes like freedom," she enthuses, as if she can't eat anything she wants, whenever she wants; meantime, Holmes and Blucas recall getting sick while they were doing this scene, from nine am to two in the afternoon), go to a fairgrounds and shoot at targets, share a chaste kiss in the hallway as the camera circles them, stay up all night talking (for the DVD, Blucas fondly remembers the "all nighter" as the route to teen romance).

When the complication arises (James puts off telling her about "this other thing" interminably, in order to prolong the film, but it's not long before you, who know Blucas best as Riley Finn, earnest soldier boy in Buffy, will guess that he's "undercover" Secret Service). The romance is especially redundant. For all her talk about independence and sage advice from Mia ("Every little girl's gotta grow up and let go of her father"), Sam is daddy's girl, and he's so proud of her. So what if he lies outright to her (for her protection, of course), and eventually orchestrates her love story. While the film is always predictable, some scenes are exorbitantly clichéd. Most notably, the couple wrangle an afternoon escape to a lake, where they are suddenly afloat in a canoe, he with fishing pole and she with pink parasol. Adorable.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.

Music

Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.

Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.