Our fair maiden Sydney (Amanda Bynes) doesn’t have coal-black hair or sing with a sweet voice or have woodland creatures following her around. Instead the tomboy grew up on construction sites with her widower dad (John Schneider) a plumber who guided Syd as best he could. But now the time has come for the gorgeous freshman to head to Southern Atlantic University to pledge her late mom’s once-dignified sorority where she meets this story’s version of the Wicked Queen: the vain and evil Rachel (Sara Paxton) president of the sorority. Let’s just say Sydney does not fit in and Rachel sends the soon-to-be fairest of them all to the curb. Luckily there’s a condemned frat house right next door with seven very socially challenged guys--each with a familiar "Dwarf"-like quality. They take Sydney in and soon with the help of one love-struck frat boy named Tyler Prince (Matthew Long) she and the seven doofuses campaign to take over the student government—and push out the Greek system that has ruled for too long. Tween sensation Amanda Bynes knows exactly where her bread is buttered. With star vehicles such as What a Girl Wants She's the Man and now Sydney White the comic actress keeps playing slightly different versions of the same character: a pretty if goofy and klutzy young woman whose vivaciousness usually changes everything for the better. And whether her fluff movies grate or not you can’t fault Bynes who clearly knows what works for her. Paxton (Aquamarine) is perfectly predictable as the mean girl as is Long as the Prince. But the seven guys playing the nerds do a nice job of reinventing their dwarfishness be it sneeziness sleepiness bashfulness dopeyness—you know the rest. The only dork who didn’t quite mesh with his inner-“Dwarf” was the one called Spanky (Samm Levine) who is more horny than “Happy.” I guess in the fairytale there really isn’t a Lusty dwarf even though you’d think at some point at least one of them must have had a few untoward thoughts about Snow White. They were little but still men. We’ve seen countless Cinderella redos but for a modern retelling of the classic fairy Snow White Sydney White isn’t half-bad--there it’s been said. It's got all the trappings of a college comedy but some of it works. Don’t however give credit to director Joe Nussbaum whose only other movies include the dud Sleepover and the direct-to-DVD American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile. He pretty much directs by the numbers. No it’s first-time screenwriter Chad Creasey who is the clever one. For example the poisoned apple is translated into a virus sent to Sydney’s Mac laptop. And when the dorky seven march in a line past Rachel and her crew holding picket signs one of the guys says “Hi ho!” For a film as pedestrian as Sydney White laughing out loud even once means something. It’s certainly not going to wow anyone besides girls ages 8-14 but Sydney White will make the perfect third in the Amanda Bynes comedy DVD set.
At the exclusive Colby University a young woman lies in a coma from a drug overdose. As local sheriff Artie Bonner (Taye Diggs) investigates what happened he starts to unravel the lives of four young college coeds. Jumping back in time we meet Alicia (Mia Kirshner) who is attending Colby on financial aid and scholarships and is determined to get into law school at any cost. Hadley (Meredith Monroe) Julianne (Rachel True) and Sydney (Dominique Swain) are three of Colby's most popular girls--beautiful rich and all damaged in some way. When Alicia and Hadley are paired up for a sociology class senior thesis Hadley at first brushes away the plain Jane. But Alicia becomes persistent perhaps seeing a window of opportunity to get into law school and manages to get Hadley to accept her into the clique. The three girls introduce Alicia to a world of privilege boys--and of course drugs--and Alicia takes to this new life a little too vigorously. Soon they regret letting this supposedly meek girl into their lives especially Hadley. Somehow the trio has to stop this monster they have created.
You can't say the cast isn't at least esthetically pleasing to look at--but pretty people don't necessarily make a good film. It's a shame really because some of the actors actually have potential but have managed to suppress their good sense for this. Canadian Kirshner has made some excellent films in her native country including Atom Egoyan's 1994 Exotica but she hasn't made that jump in the United States choosing instead films such as Not Another Teen Movie. She does a fairly nice job in Friend but it's hard to shine in a bad film. She deserves better (and a new agent). True and Swain (who made an extremely convincing Lolita in Adrian Lyne's recent version of the Nabokov book) also do an adequate job with thankless parts. It's Monroe's performance that weighs the film down. The TV actress (Dawson's Creek) can't quite raise up to the level of a feature film and has very little range of emotions--and unfortunately the film centers on her. Not the best choice.
The fact that New Best Friend sat on the shelf for a few years gives you a pretty good indication of how the next few hours are going to go. It is simply a film that takes itself much too seriously. This scenario--a super-elite clique that makes over a sweet girl and eventually turns her into an uncontrollable monster who has to be stopped--has been done and done again. Yet in films like Heathers and Jawbreaker it's done with biting commentary a tongue-in-cheek look at how peers can sway behavior. In Friend we end up watching a very bad episode of Beverly Hills 90210. The lifestyle of the rich and famous in a small college town just isn't all that interesting. Relatively new director Zoe Clarke-Williams obviously needs a few more features under her belt before she can be considered as a serious director. Williams has the action moving back and forth through time so often that it's hard to follow the timeline of events. The film could have done so much more--but it just didn't.