She Gets What She Wants

(NOTE: “She Gets What She Wants” was originally titled “Slap Her, She’s French” and was scheduled for a summer 2002 theatrical release. It was screened for critics about a month early, then pushed back to another date, and then another, and more and more, all because the distributor, The Premiere Group, was having financial troubles. By the time they solved them, they gave up on releasing the film theatrically and sold it to TV, where it premiered on ABC Family under the terrible title “She Gets What She Wants.” That’s how it was released on DVD, too. This is the review I wrote in 2002, after the press screening. I don’t know if the movie was changed at all thereafter.)

“Slap Her, She’s French” is a dark comedy where we like the characters only to the extent that we can laugh at them. The moment we are asked to feel compassion for any of these connivers and manipulators, we rebel, because such attempts go against the reason they were created in the first place.

Fortunately, this very funny comedy, directed by Melanie Mayron, only occasionally lapses into Redeeming Qualities Mode, remaining instead in the realm of brightly lit farce and uproarious mayhem.

In Splendona, Texas, lives Starla Grady (Jane McGregor), whose sole aim in life is to become a “Good Morning, America” anchor. She has compiled a checklist of lesser goals and reputation-making achievements that she uses as stepping-stones toward anchorhood, including winning the Miss Splendona Beef Pageant. One of her competitors steals her idea of mentioning God in the question-and-answer portion, though, so Starla has to improvise to win the judges’ favor back. (It’s hard to top a God reference in a Texas beauty pageant.) Starla announces she and her family will be taking in a foreign-exchange student as a means of showing the world what a great place Splendona really is. If there’s anything Texans are more proud of than their Christianity, the movie suggests, it’s themselves. Starla wins.

The exchange student, unaware she is a token player in Starla’s life-sized game of Stratego, is a shy, bespectacled Parisian named Genevieve LePlouff (Piper Perabo). She is immediately in awe of Starla’s beauty and popularity, and good-naturedly envious of her quarterback boyfriend (Matt Czuchry). She even offers to help Starla pass her French class, which she must do in order to remain on the cheerleading squad.

Ah, but Genevieve turns out to be, as Starla puts it, a “treacherous skank,” with an agenda even more manipulative and calculated than Starla’s. Therein lies much of the fun, in seeing not one but two despicable characters getting their comeuppance, complete with plenty of slapping.

That the film uses such age-old comedy devices as secret tape recorders and hidden microphones is somewhat disappointing, as is the forced character arc near the end where Starla realizes there may be more to life than her high school Texas empire. This epiphany is aided by Ed (Trent Ford), an oddball fellow student who doesn’t fit in at school or in the movie.

Who does fit in the movie? Everyone else. Newcomer Jane McGregor shows remarkable star potential, with enough natural charm and comedic flair to make this film worthy of comparison to such crackling you-go-girl comedies as “Legally Blonde” and “Bring It on.” Piper Perabo, after doing such awful work in “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” and “Coyote Ugly,” redeems herself with Genevieve.

Also hilarious are Julie White as Starla’s mom, who drinks “iced tea” from a never-ending supply of thermoses; Brandon Smith as Starla’s dad, always armed with a video camera; and Jesse James as Starla’s genius little brother Randolph (he reads “A Brief History of Time” and “Tropic of Cancer”).

If the finale becomes too conventional and unbelievable, take refuge in memories of the previous 75 minutes, where the humor is sharp and the satirical targets are mercilessly skewered. If you’re a Texan, put on your thick skin before entering the theater.

B (1 hr., 28 min.; PG-13, some profanity, sexual humor.)