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Q: What do you get when Snow White and the seven dwarfs go to college?
A: Sydney White and the seven ... "dorks."
There's a wicked witch, a handsome prince and a poisoned apple. But there are also lots of sorority girls, so it's clear from the beginning that this isn't your average old-fashioned fairy tale. And the heroine isn't exactly a damsel in distress. She's a spunky freshman who lost her mother when she was 9 and has since been raised by her dad and his construction-worker pals.
When Sydney shows up at South Atlantic University and pledges her late mother's sorority, it's obvious that she wasn't turned out of the typical sorority-girl mold. Rush week ends painfully for Sydney, and instead of moving into the Kappa house, she finds lodging in a tumbledown university overflow property. The Vortex, as it's called, is inhabited by seven guys who are all, well, rejects. Goodhearted but odd, Lenny, Terrence, George, Spanky, Gerkin, Jeremy and Embele join Sydney in her quest to win the campus back from Kappa president Rachel Witchburn and the rest of the Greeks.
During her time with the snooty, self-absorbed Kappa girls, Sydney establishes herself as a real standout. She's beautiful but not vain. She's refreshingly straightforward and can laugh at her own idiosyncrasies. She won't buy into the slavish dieting of the sorority world, and she isn't afraid to get down on her hands and knees and scrub the bathroom floor.
Her love interest scores big points when Sydney discovers that he volunteers at a church, feeding dinner to the homeless. And she goes beyond showing compassion for those who have been rejected by society—by genuinely befriending them. Before the frat boy sings, Sydney's convinced the majority of the campus that it's great to be a geek, effectively unifying and uplifting every fringe social group at SAU.
By contrast, Rachel and her groupies have terrible ideals. Rachel says that one of the top rules of sorority life is to "avoid fat losers." She ostracizes one girl because she gained "27 pounds of breakup weight over the summer." And she relentlessly criticizes the appearance of every girl in her sorority. Significantly, as Sydney and the seven "dorks" do battle against Rachel, they denounce her values.
Perhaps because she's lost her mom, Sydney is particularly close to her dad. Their goodbye as Sydney boards the bus for college is affectionate—though Sydney eschews "mushy stuff." When his daughter's campus crisis escalates, Dad drives through the night to come to her aid. He also reminds her that honoring her mom doesn't necessarily mean following in her footsteps as a Kappa, but being the kind of life-loving, sincere person that her mother was. Though kind of generic, advice in a letter from her late mother reminds Sydney to "live every moment, grab every opportunity and have fun" as she heads off to college.
When Sydney and her date arrive at a church to serve food to the homeless, she at first isn't sure why they're there. She quips, "So, your idea of a date is to convert me?"
Being raised by her dad and his co-workers means that Sydney had an affection-filled, well-protected childhood, but it also makes for some awkward moments. For example, the construction crew teaches a very young Sydney to whistle at little boys passing by the construction site. And Dad's talk about "becoming a woman" involves an object lesson illustrated with plumbing paraphernalia. He also tells her that once she hits puberty, she will "lay an egg ... like a chicken" each month.
When Sydney arrives at SAU, sexual content changes accordingly. A fraternity guy scopes out freshman girls with binoculars. Sorority girls wear outfits with plunging necklines and short skirts. Some are shown in bikinis. Freshman girls are forced to clean a bathroom; meanwhile, guys keep on using it as if the girls weren't there. Sydney briefly appears at a dance in just a slinky slip. Some male students are humiliated when sorority girls invite them to a "naked hot-tub party." The guys doff their clothes, not knowing that they're about to be made a spectacle for a whole house full of people. (They're shown from the waist up.) A cross-dresser at a poetry reading says he's going to perform "Naked Pain: A Poem in 12 Parts." There's also a hint at masturbation and a reference to "hooking up."
Though Sydney lives in the Vortex attic by herself, the fact that she's one girl living with seven guys is played for humor. For example, as her laundry hangs drying, all seven guys surround one sports bra in awe. "This thing has touched boobs," one of them marvels. Terrence is embarrassed to the point of injuring himself when he walks in on Sydney shaving her legs. (She's wearing a robe, but her leg is bare from toes to high thigh.) Spanky, meanwhile, constantly complains that he's never had sex with a girl. And at the end of the film, it's implied that that's about to change.
One of the Vortex guys falls off the roof watching Sydney and her date kiss. A girl is hit in the back of the head with a Frisbee.Gerkin says that he's created a video game that pays tribute to the violent games Halo and Medal of Honor, among others.
Crude or Profane Language
God's name is misused once, as is "d--n." "H---" and "a--" are spoken or implied a half-dozen times each, and there are a couple of uses of "b--ch." Other crude words include "ho," "skank," "douche bag," "hump," "crap," "p-ssed" and "screwed."
Drug and Alcohol Content
A fraternity president says he has to go pick up a keg. At a party, frat boys and their guests are shown doing keg stands. Nerdy Terrance wins social points by doing a record-setting one. Girls from one sorority are stereotyped as being able to "outparty any fraternity on campus." They're shown—in a comic way—passed out on the lawn of their house.
Other Negative Elements
Knowing that Sydney will naturally be a responsible college student, her father tells her that he hopes she'll "raise a little h--- sometimes." Momentarily embarrassed that her dad is a plumber, Sydney purposely leads another girl to believe that he's a rich developer instead. Since hazing is off-limits, Sydney and her fellow pledges are subjected to "pledge enlightenment," which involves being awakened at all hours of the night to perform silly stunts and grueling tasks. Greeks refer to Sydney's new friends as "the Vortex freak show."
As a present-day, show-the-boys-how-it's-done Snow White, Amanda Bynes sparkles. Yes, Sydney White's plot is thin, but the leading lady has such a winning demeanor that audiences might actually forget how predictable the story is.
What complicates things is the film's setting. Director Joe Nussbaum and crew have attempted to create a family-values flick with lots of teen appeal—against a backdrop of sorority and fraternity life. That's not a tall order. It's an impossible one. Though the drinking, language and sex in Sydney are toned way down from the actualities of Greek life, they're still there. And still problematic. What's more, in softening these negative elements, the film's creators have made them seem almost cute—to the point where they're begging to be imitated. That's no fairy tale for families.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Amanda Bynes as Sydney White; Matt Long as Tyler Prince; Sara Paxon as Rachel Witchburn; John Schneider as Paul White; Crystal Hunt as Dinky; Jack Carpenter as Lenny; Jeremy Howard as Terrance; Arnie Pantoja as George; Samm Levine as Spanky; Danny Strong as Gurkin; Adam Hendershott as Jeremy; Donte Bonner as Embele