Samantha Mackenzie isn’t an ordinary girl. As the daughter of the President of the United States of America, she’s spent most of her life smiling for photo ops, reciting prepared answers to reporters’ questions and entertaining foreign dignitaries. She can’t sneeze without a Secret Service agent stepping in to offer her a tissue. So as she heads off to Redmond College, 3,000 miles away from her “cozy” white house in Washington, D.C., she wants nothing more than to be normal and have a college experience like everyone else.
What her father wants more than anything else, however, is for her to be safe, especially since it’s an election year. And that all but dooms her dreams. It’d be an understatement to say the tight security he arranges around her doesn’t fit well with college life. (Picture large men in navy suits at a pool-side frat party.) Following an embarrassing scene for Sam, her father finally agrees to let up on the reins, but without his daughter knowing he assigns a young agent, James, to fill in the gaps by going undercover as a college student.
Naturally, James and Sam fall for each other. And, of course, it’s only a matter of time before the First Daughter discovers the truth. Heartbroken, she’s left to wonder if their relationship was scripted like everything else in her sheltered life. He’s left to face possible termination for fraternizing with his assignment.
Family is shown as a top priority in life. Sam and her father work at maintaining an excellent relationship, refusing to let the tough demands of his political career pull them apart. He’s well aware of the sacrifice she and her mother have made for him and he holds them in high regard for it. The Mackenzies rely on each other for support and value the intimacy of their moments away from the public eye.
James is a true gentleman, genuinely encouraging Sam and looking out for her best interests. After Sam discovers who he is and tries to get back at him by making him jealous, he steadfastly continues to do his job to protect her.
Most impressive, however, is the positive role model Sam is to both fellow characters and young viewers. First Daughter is a coming-of-age “princess” story in reverse. Cinderella dreams of becoming a princess. Sam dreams of being normal. “I just want to be like everybody else,” she tells her dad, to which he responds with the cold truth: “Sam, you’re not like everybody else.” But as she reaches toward her dream, Sam bests most other recent big-screen princesses. She’s kind, caring, giving and humble. She also treats her parents with respect, even when she disagrees with them. Rather than pitching a fit when her mother forces her to drop out of college to join her dad on the campaign trail, she sucks it up and, out of love for her family, pitches in. Elsewhere, coming face to face with people who rudely express their low opinion of her father, she bites her tongue, refusing to be drawn into heated arguments.
Before ever meeting her college roommate, Mia, Sam leaves the better bed for her, remarking that it’s the least she can do since she knows how much Mia will be required to endure while rooming with her. Sam also treats Mia and James to a pampered “study break” by arranging for massages and manicures while flying them off (in Air Force One, of course) to a glamorous ball.
All in all, while acknowledging a couple of missteps (noted below), it’s safe to say Sam exhibits a wonderful blend of maturity and innocence. In the face of conflict (whether with roommates or political adversaries), she consistently chooses the high road.
The first college party Sam attends is a fraternity pool party where girls are encouraged to wear bikinis. Several are shown, as is an inflatable sex doll. A group of frat boys dance provocatively around Sam to a raucous version of “Hail to the Chief.” At another party, while sliding down a homemade waterslide, Sam accidentally pulls Mia’s pants down revealing quite a bit of the back of her thong underwear.
Mia flirts and acts suggestively in numerous scenes, and is known for making out with guys even when she doesn’t like them. She also makes quite a few sexually tinged quips and comments.
Sam and James both make remarks about the President’s daughter “getting some action.” And while trying to turn James green with envy, Sam wears a skimpy outfit on a date with another guy. (After getting drunk, she entertains fellow clubbers with a racy “table” dance—which the following morning’s newspaper headlines call a “striptease.”) Also trying to get under James’ skin, Sam goes to the school’s health center to get birth control pills. At various times she’s seen wearing a nightgown, a bikini and low-cut formal gowns.
One of Sam’s Secret Service agents slams a student to the ground when the clueless kid shows up at the pool party with a squirt gun. James punches a man who is “admiring” Sam’s seductive (and drunken) dance. A car crashes into another vehicle.
God’s name is used as an interjection a half-dozen times; Christ is mentioned inappropriately once. Mia says “a–” three times.
Beer-drinking and partying are seen as the collegiate way of life. Beer gets discussed a handful of times; each time it symbolizes freedom and independence. Though we never see her actually drinking, Sam is obviously drunk when she does her little dance, and has to be carried home by James. (She inexplicably sobers up when the script calls for a bit of serious dialogue, and her hangover is virtually nonexistent.)
“We’re all living Pinocchios,” James and Sam say to each other to explain away little white lies. And many such fibs wend their way “harmlessly” through the story. (But this negative message is countered when Sam discovers that her dad has lied to her about reducing her security detail; she calls him onto the carpet for deceiving her, forcing him to understand how much emotional havoc he’s caused by ordering James not to reveal the truth of his undercover status.)
As for college life, there’s nothing wrong with showing collegians having fun, but here the portrayal of higher education seems limited to a party-hearty lifestyle that usually involves alcohol. Apparently, classwork, homework or any other form of work don’t exist in this idealistic world. And while a college movie doesn’t need a homework quota to be legit, it would be nice to show some reality sometimes!
Hollywood’s love affair with twofers continues. Six months or so before First Daughter arrived in theaters, Chasing Liberty drew first blood on the president’s-daughter-searching-for-freedom-and-falling-in-love-with-a-Secret-Service-agent shtick. So it’s hard not to feel like First Daughter is a rehash. But it is tamer (a good thing). And it further distinguishes itself with Sam’s character.
No, Sam’s journey toward self-discovery isn’t without moral detours. And the story that surrounds her is predictable and sometimes simplistic to a fault—especially its quick and neatly wrapped resolution. But it’s remarkable how much innocence Sam preserves while clawing for independence. Her romance with James is refreshing and light—not sexual in any way. And her underlying respect for her parents is a surprising treat in an era of revenge-oriented, find-yourself-at-all-costs teen romps.