A rebel princess (Wild Child movie review)

“Wild Child”, directed by Nick Moore, begins like the worst of high school comedies and makes you want to turn off your TV immediately and forget that you have ever try to get to know Poppy (very good Emma Roberts) and her story. Nevertheless, if you manage to go through annoying, irritating prelude that is composed of all possible stereotypes of rich, spilt girls and their circles of admiration, you probably won’t regret. Don’t get me wrong – this movie is neither a masterpiece, nor a total breath of freshness on a crowded shelf with productions for teenagers, but its humour is subtle and doesn’t come from the cheapest gags and its characters are made of clichés and seem to be mental twins of many others, but at the same time they remain surprisingly authentic and likeable. “Wild Child” can be called a success, which is possible thanks to its creators sensitivity, empathy and – last but not least – ability of putting life into dead, used schemes and making this old story, which end is as obvious as its beginning,  pleasant to watch again.

The dramaturgy of Moore’s comedy is based on strong contrasts that not only organise the tensions between characters, but are also visible in the visual layer (sunny California vs. rainy England). We meet Poppy as an embodiment of luxurious kitsch and a walking stereotype of an arrogant American girl that likes to see herself as a hub of the universe. In the “Wild Childs” opening sequence we see her spectacular performance – not being happy about her father’s (Aidan Quinn) fiancé moving in, she takes control of a lorry with the woman’s luggage and some of her things gives away and some throws into an ocean. This manifestation of Poppy’s rebel makes her dad lose his patience. The protagonist’s nightmare – an English school for girls – comes true. She will be sent to a place that for her is a materialization of hell.

In those first scenes of the movie the director makes as sure that Poppy’s is working through a trauma of her mother’s death and that she is wearing a mask of a rotten, mean princess to tame unfriendly reality. The protagonist shows her second – hidden – side in a short, sweet scene with her younger sister, in which she tells her that everything is going to be alright.

The main action begins when Poppy arrives to her new school that seems to be a pretty monumental relic of the past. The building, which is located in the middle of nowhere, seems to be a representation of the school’s philosophy that is based on a conservative values and morality. Its’ headmistress, Mrs Kingsley (Natasha Richardson), promises the protagonist’s father to take care of his rebellious daughter and to awaken her potential.

The scenes in which Poppy is being introduced to school’s rules and discipline are scary, because they suggest that “Wild Child” is a movie about system oppression and training girls to the traditional roles of restrained, submissive women in a patriarchal social order. That’s why when the protagonist turns her school uniform into its alternative – less prudent – version, we start to support her. She is no longer an annoying princess that lost the contact with real world and its problems, but an embodiment of a subversive trickster that is negating the oppressive order to fight for emancipation. In the context of a romantic comedy for teenagers it might sound too nobly and could seem to be a big misuse, but “Wild Child” really is more serious movie than it looks like.

What’s interesting, it turns out that teachers are rather supportive and they are not on the guard of conservatism and tradition, but care about the girls’ strength, talents, potentials, and – above all independence. The only representation of the traditional order is Poppy’s opponent – Harriet (Georgia King) – a conservative variation of a popular girl that wants to be the school’s queen. The conflict between Poppy and Harriet, obviously set in a frame of a love story (both characters are interested in the same boy), seems to be a simple, but suggestive allegory of the tension between the ethics of rules and sensitivity, between power and love, and – last but not least – between women that want the patriarchy to continue and woman that, more or less consciously, dream of its end.

“Wild Child” is a beautiful tale about friendship, girls’ solidarity, and the subversive potential of the Others. Unfortunately, it’s also inexcusably predictable and even the greatest dialogues, the funniest jokes and the smartest social diagnosis can’t blur the plot’s obviousness away.