Sixteen-year-old Poppy (Emma Roberts) is an LA teen diva who does what she wants, whenever she wants. But after an over-the-top prank pushes her father one step too far, she finds herself shipped off to the one place where everything will change: a British boarding school. No cell phones, no designer clothes…no way. Desperate to break free, she sets in motion the ultimate escape plan involving the head mistress’ son – only to discover that this could be the reason she wants to stay. Co-starring Natasha Richardson, Aidan Quinn and Nick Frost, it’s the fun and fabulous comedy that’s LOL!
Poppy is spoiled. OK, Poppy, played with snottiness galore by Emma Roberts, is wicked-impossible spoiled. As Wild Child opens, Poppy is having a Malibu meltdown, in the form of tossing her dad’s new girlfriend’s clothing into the Pacific–just past the edge of the infinity pool.”This is the last straw, Poppy!” shouts her beleaguered dad (Aidan Quinn). So off Poppy goes–to boarding school. In England. Where it rains 200 days a year. If Wild Child has few plot surprises–selfish kid learns respect for others with the persistence and pluck of new friends and firm authority figures–it’s still a lark, because of Roberts’ considerable winsomeness, and because the dreaded England ends up showing considerable charm of its own, which draws in both Poppy and the viewer. Wild Child also marks something bittersweet, the last film performance of Natasha Richardson (who died in March 2009). Richardson is winning as the strict but warmhearted headmistress, Mrs. Kingsley, making what could be a one-dimensional character complex. Richardson is totally self-possessed and grounded, and in some shots seems to channel another great British actress, Emma Thompson. The great Scottish character actress Shirley Henderson also makes a sly appearance as the matron with the dry-as-bone-china sense of humor.
“What is this place, Hogwarts?” sneers Poppy when she arrives at the remote 18th-century school. But what happens to Poppy is in some ways even more transformative than the goings-on at Harry Potter’s school. Flirtation and love hover in the air, in the form of Mrs. Kingsley’s hunky son, Freddie (Alex Pettyfer); and Poppy’s flair for the dramatic and her undeniable leadership skills galvanize the student body, in some unexpected ways. Roberts is becoming a delightful actress with charisma and nuance. And as the Wild Child is tamed, a lovely young woman is revealed. —A.T. Hurley