The funniest thing about a teen comedy seen years after its release is the way its jokes, its cultural reference, its music and its cast have aged.
Thus, a comedy that gives us the early days of the use of “beyotch,” Emma Roberts at her child starlet peak, prelapsarian Alex Pettyfer and Juno Temple the last time she could possibly be labeled “innocent.”
A spoiled, out-of-control Malibu teen “going through a rather difficult stage” is sent off to boarding school where they know how to deal with a “Wild Child” — in England.
Because that’ll teach her.
Roberts has the title role, Poppy, a Malibu Barbie, oldest daughter of a widower (Aidan Quinn) who arranges “the perfect Malibu welcome” for Dad’s new girlfriend on moving day, allowing the locals to ransack the moving truck loaded with everything new girlfriend owns.
Nothing for it for Poppy then but venerable Abbey Mount School, in rainy, rural England, with its tradition, hierarchy and no cell service. Poppy is hell-bent on not fitting in.
The girls say grace together at meals, Poppy chants.
She insults her “big sister,” the one supposed to show her the ropes (Kimberly Nixon) and doesn’t let “head girl” Harriet (Georgia King) scare her.
“Watch the “smere,” girlfriend — 200 goats died for this!”
The matron (Shirley Henderson) is “Hogwarts” scary, and the headmistress (the late Natasha Richardson) isn’t open to bargaining over any “rights” Poppy figures she’s entitled to.
“To me a negotiation’s rather like a nightclub — not something I tend to go into.”
Get used to living in a dormitory, “LIGHTS OUT,” and lacrosse, “No wireless” and endless rain which does her Jimmy Choos and sundress collection no good at all.
To her pal back home, “these girls are all ugly losers who think ‘mani-pedi’ is some sort of Latin greeting,” “village idiots.”
“What do you hope to get out of this school, Poppy?”
“To get out of this school.”
Her plan, the only one the other girls will conspire to help her with, is to get expelled. Get blamed for everything, rile the administration, prank the pool (epic), etc.
“It’s on like Donkey Kong!”
“Wild Child” is a sassy, perky and just-potty-mouthed-enough to seem edgy, with “incredibly slutty and available” and “How many boys have you shagged?” jokes (just among us girls) about how to “snog on” the headmistress’s hunky son (Pettyfer), who like everyone on staff at Abbey Mount, drives a classic British motorcar — an Austin Healey “Frogeye” Sprite.
One hit the town used-clothing shop for a play dress-up montage so that Poppy can makeover the fashion-impaired Brits, one trip to the local beauty parlor operated by “the only gay in the village” (Nick Frost, a stitch), trying to pass themselves off as housewives in the liquor store,, a “Malibu moment” here and there — some bits are funnier than others, but even the near-groaners land lightly.
“This is a themed costume party, not a dwarf prostitute’s convention!”
The Hertfordshire locations are lovely, the settings quaint and cute and oh-so-English. As are the girls, the staff and hunky Freddy.
“Are you gay?”
These movies all turn in the same general direction and at the same point in the story arc, so no sense acting all surprised (unless you’re the 15-and-under demo this is intended for). Poppy’s going to lose some of the brat, and the Brits will lose some of their Brit.
Editor turned director Nick Moore (he cut “Love Actually” and many a screen comedy) handles the action, such as it is, with flair and lets the laughs — many of them verbal — land with a thunk and not a thud. A favorite line? Freddy’s cover for what sounds like a fart.
“Better an empty house than an angry tenant!”
Roberts was 17 when she made “Wild Child,” fresh off “Nancy Drew” and “Aquamarine” and TV’s “Unfabulous.” She plays Poppy rather broadly, TV style. She was better in “Nancy Drew,” and consistently better better later on. She would go on to see her child stardom fade, even announcing retirement at one point. The roles came back and more TV beckoned instead.
Temple, then better known as a director’s daughter, is adorable as the noisy basket case in need of a makeover and “confidence” boost here. She’s played romantic leads and far too many hookers, junkies and tarts for her own good since.
No kid today would have seen “Wild Child” in a theater, and not many adults, then or now, did either. Perhaps it was seen as damaged and “dangerous,” with a big “Don’t try this at home” streak. The irresponsible stuff here is “alarming” only in the finale, the rest? Hijinx, nothing more.
Is it Netflixable? You bet.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for some coarse and suggestive content, sex references and language – all involving teens
Cast: Emma Roberts, Lexi Ainsworth, Shelby Young, Juno Temple, Aidan Quinn, Natasha Richardson, Shirley Henderson, Nick Frost,
Credits:Directed by Nick Moore, script by Lucy Dahl. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:33