Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Amanda Bynes: Another Starlet Crashes

My daughter is fifteen. Over the past decade and a half, she and I have gone through distinct audio-visual phases together. First, there were Teletubbies (omg — should I assume that's what acid feels like?) and Elmo, then we went through a Disney Princess stage, several seasons of The Saddle Club, and eventually into live action teen movies like Princess Diaries and Freaky Friday

When my daughter liked a particular movie, she liked it. I mean, she really liked it. I can't begin to estimate how many times we watched Amanda Bynes in What A Girl Wants.

I didn't mind. (Or, after the third or fourth dozen time, it's probably more accurate to say, I didn't mind much.) The movie had a lot going for it: gorgeous shots of New York and London (two of my favorite cities); a clever update of Cinderella, complete with a thoroughly evil stepmother and stepsister; and an independent heroine who realizes that she has to be true to herself, prompting her hunky young boyfriend to offer one of my all-time favorite lines of teen advice:

"Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you're born to stand out?"

Hear that, girls?

After all the cartoons and puppets, What A Girl Wants was a particularly welcome pleasure for this particular mamma. Why? Two words: Colin Firth. Yes, the penultimate Mr. Darcy, himself, is the heroine's dad. Actually, I remember explaining to my daughter and a friend that I thought Daphne's father was dreamy. "Eeeeewwww!" they responded in unified dismay. As healthy American tweens, they only had eyes for the aforementioned hunky boyfriend.

And now, like Lindsay Lohan before her, promising young actress Amanda Bynes has made it difficult to watch her earlier work without being distracted — and disturbed — by her current crazies.

Bynes has been a star for more than half her life, starting with Nickelodeon's The Amanda Show when she was just thirteen. By the time she appeared in What A Girl Wants, she was already a familiar face, a household name, and the winner of a coveted (if slimed) Kids' Choice Award. And afterwards, she went on to do a series of similar teen films, including She's The Man (a high school version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night), Hairspray, Sydney White and Easy A.

She seemed like a bright young actress with a bright long future. In fact, in any live appearances and interviews from those years, Bynes seems like the anti-starlet. Sober. Smart. Down-to-Earth.

Not so much anymore.

Three years ago, Bynes tweeted that she was retiring. A few months later, she updated and assured fans she was "unretiring." And then she hit a wall — as well as several automobiles, including a police cruiser, while she was DUI. An early and enthusiastic devotee of social media, much of her private drama has played out on Twitter. She publicly asked President Obama for help, she posed for bizarre and lewd selfies, and raged on pop star Rihanna. At this week's court appearance, she wore a cartoonish blonde wig, denied everything, and threatened to sue. 

Throughout, sadly, Amanda Bynes has been her own worst enemy. There's so much pressure to "live out loud." Today's tweens, teens and young adults equate posting with real life. But, putting it all out there is even more pitiful when what's on display is a legitimate breakdown.

I can only hope that Bynes gets it back together. I also hope that Amanda's former fans, like my daughter and her peers, can see all of this as a cautionary tale. 

Don't drink and drive. 
Don't smoke dope. 
And, if you're going down, ask for help ... but not via Twitter.

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