If you think you're having deja vu, it may be because this premise was already shot by Warner Brothers earlier this year. When Chasing Liberty turned into a box office bomb, with Mandy Moore at the epicenter, the folks at Fox Studios decided to delay the release of their nearly identical story until the fall of '04.
While the plots have similar traits, these movies are (thankfully) very different to watch. Instead of Moore's spoiled-child characterization, relative big screen newcomer Katie Holmes presents a much more believable-and likeable-First Daughter. Under the hand of capable and seasoned director Forest Whitaker, the young actress becomes all he hoped for -- a truly Audrey Hepburn-like princess.
Holmes plays Samantha Mackenzie, a girl who loves her parents, but is dying to have a "normal" college experience even if her father, President Mackenzie (Michael Keaton), is battling for reelection. Arriving on the West coast, she approaches the steps of her school with an entourage of secret service agents, reporters, and mom (Margaret Colin) and dad. So much for normal.
Inside her dorm, she meets her new roomie, Mia (Amerie). At first, the Arkansas native with a passion for parties and guys isn't too happy about sharing her living quarters with a celebrity. The situation improves as the two young women discover they can air their honest feelings with each other-a skill that becomes increasingly important after Sam reluctantly attracts all the attention Mia openly desires.
The notoriety becomes too much for both girls when a water gun at a bikini frat party is mistaken for a real weapon, causing a major takedown. Arriving at her father's campaign office in her swim attire, Sam finally gets her wish of fewer agents. And with some of these encumbrances removed, the freshman can now focus more concentration on James (Marc Blucas). The Resident Advisor for her dormitory, he has a down-to-earth way of treating her that makes her feel like an ordinary person. But the peace and quiet won't last for long.
Like Julia Stiles in The Prince and Me, Holmes delivers a tremendous performance, juggling between being an important figure, and a typical student. Either way, she lights up every frame of this movie with her classic face and beautiful smile.
The PG film also tries to balance content and consequences. Family viewers may not appreciate Mia's desire to be sexually active with many different men. Yet they will be grateful Whitaker contains her extra-curricular activities to verbal mentions instead of on screen depictions and includes Sam advising her roommate that she may be making poor decisions.
In another scene, we see a rebellious Sam dancing in a tight pair of shorts while heavily intoxicated. Later she is shown making significant sacrifices in an effort to repair the damage done to her family's reputation.
Although a half a dozen religious exclamations are heard throughout the film, the script is surprisingly intelligent, offering thought provoking entertainment through Sam's example of loyalty to parents while still following her own dreams. Thanks to the vibrant on-screen chemistry between Holmes and Blucas, and the moving musical score (penned by Whitaker), First Daughter is a first rate romance.