Don't Choke on the REALNESS: Sydney White (2007)
By Kimber Benton & Mary "Stormer" Phillips · Nov 08, 2013
Stormer: Finally. I feel so epic. Although unfortunately there are less silly black/white metaphors in this one and more ludicrous portrayals of nerd culture. Gurkin (Danny Strong) builds a mashup videogame! This movie is a technological wet dream!
Kimber: I mentioned this before, but I think that all you need to know about how this film works is this: in an early scene in the movie the seven dorks are shocked to discovered that Sydney (Amanda Bynes) carts around a suitcase that contains about a billion comic books. But in a later scene? The nerds are talking about Battlestar Galactica and Sydney rolls her eyes, all “nerds, what the hell’s that?” Which is not to say all nerds know all nerd things. It’s just to say that there’s no nerd hierarchical distinction between comic books and sci-fi television.
Stormer: She is…inconsistently characterized, to put it mildly.
Kimber: She’s a free spirit, though, Mare! She’s not ruled by mere convention or consistency.
Stormer: She’s also REAL. Remember when she’s at the sorority and all her sisters are pissy ‘cause she’s eating shit tons of bacon like she’s not worried about her weight? Because she is REAL.
Kimber: Remember when Tyler Prince (Matt Long) falls in love with her at first sight because she’s attractive and down to earth?
Stormer: She is pretty special. Fuck Battlestar Galactica! That’s for unattractive, introvert nerds. Comics are fine, though. They’re for attractive, down-to-earth nerds who also happen to be REAL.
Kimber: So the story is that Sydney’s dead mother was a Kappa sorority women and therefore Sydney is a legacy. Except her mother being dead means that Sydney was raised by her father and his construction crew and consequently Sydney has never had girlfriends and—
Stormer: That’s why she’s so REAL! Also, my favorite part is when all of the construction workers chip in to buy Sydney a product placed computer. It’s so sweet!
Kimber: Rachel (Sara Paxton), the head Kappa, hates Sydney on sight just because, and so works to make it so that she can deny entry to a legacy, which…I dunno if that’s a big deal or not, but this is all exacerbated by the fact that Rachel likes Tyler who likes Sydney’s realness—
Stormer: I think you mean REALNESS.
Kimber: Can I just say at this point that Bynes is really not serving any REALNESS at all in this movie?
Stormer: Unless you mean REAL amateurish acting!
Kimber: Sydney gets denied entrance into Kappa and runs off in the rain to find Lenny (Jack Carpenter), a nerd she was forced to humiliate earlier during pledge week, and he invites her into his fraternity, which is a shit pile of a house known as the Vortex, which of course Rachel wants to get rid of so the Kappa’s can have more walk-in closets or something.
Stormer: You forgot that the other reason Rachel hates Sydney is because Sydney is gaining on her in the campus popularity poll which is the mirror mirror thingy for this film, because Rachel is the evil stepmother person.
Kimber: Internet, internet, on my brand new computer.
Stormer: Who is the fairest Vortex loser?
Kimber: Unfortunately there is no Huntsman in this film.
Stormer: Nope, instead there’s just a bunch of racist and homophobic and other offensive stereotypes.
Kimber: Yup. Because Rachel’s plan to get rid of the Vortex is to shut the house down, which, as it always does in frat/sorority films, means that the Vortex needs to fulfill a bunch of vague requirements to stay open. Which means that Sydney has to lead the introvert nerds to run for Student Council—
Stormer: Which, fortunately she’s taking a class on modern election campaigning. I’m assuming that course is called Serendipity 101.
Kimber: So Sydney and the nerds reach out to a bunch of student groups which include the Southern Atlantic Pacific Islanders Association; the campus chapter of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps; the Emily Steinberg Jewish Student Union; the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Searching Alliance Performing Arts Society; the marching band; and random goths.
Stormer: It’s so heartwarming and racist and homophobic all at the same time. It’s REAL!
Kimber: Right. It’s…hilarious in its casual offensiveness?
Stormer: Well, this is a movie where even the nerds are offensive. Bashful (Adam Hendershott) only talks through a dog-shaped sock puppet, and Dopey (Arnie Pantoja) is dumb because he’s a boy scout who hasn’t been able to get his last few badges or something.
Kimber: Oh, and Happy (Samm Levine) is named “Spanky” and is horny. Also, when it’s a toss up whether Levine or Strong is the more famous cast member of the seven dorks? Maybe you needed to go back to casting.
Stormer: Are you shitting on Emmy-winner Danny Strong?
Kimber: Yes. I absolutely am.
Stormer: Cool. My favorite part is when random electrical fires happen in the house, because apparently while Gurkin can totally mashup a bunch of videogames he has no extant electrical knowledge at all.
Kimber: My favorite part is when Sydney’s Dad and his crew fix the house up. ‘Cause duh.
Stormer: I think that whole thing about Sydney’s inconsistency is important, though. Half the time the film wants her to be this tomboyish subversion—which, by the way Hollywood types, “tomboy” is increasingly the one subversive quality you give Sydney-type characters, which means it’s no longer subversive—but other times she isn’t, and then other times the film wants us to laugh when the nerds don’t display traditionally manly qualities.
Kimber: Yeah. The politics in this film are fucked. Like at the end of the film. So Rachel pays some weird hacker to remotely destroy Sydney’s Serendipity 101 term paper and poor Sydney spends so long at the library trying to rewrite it that she sleeps through the big speeches for student council—
Stormer: Which are apparently happening at the end of term?
Kimber: Right. But so things look grim until all the campus groups show up and everybody gives a speech about how they’re a nerd—including some of the Kappas—and everybody is happy and Jeremy/Bashful talks without his puppet.
Stormer: This movie is fucking stupid.
Kimber: But it’s stupid because it wants it both ways. It wants to be a frat movie a la Animal House, but it also wants to be a Mean Girls. It’s confusing.
Stormer: Right. It’s supposed to be about the inner-ness of all beautiful people, but it can’t help but stop and revel in the weirdness of each and every non-Sydney character, playing each character for laughs. Like, why do all of the members of the Emily Steinberg Jewish Student Union seem to be Hasidic? Why are they always dancing? Why do the members of the Southern Atlantic Pacific Islanders Association show up to the Student Union speeches wearing grass skirts? Why is the campus Performing Arts Society also the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Searching Alliance?
Kimber: Yeah. The message at the end is supposed to be that everybody is a little dorky, and you should let your freak flag fly. But the actual message seems to be, laugh at these stereotypes, everybody!
Stormer: You forgot the Marlin-Fishing Association of Students with Birthdays on Even-Numbered Days. They constantly have fishing gear.
Kimber: The Kennebunkport Appreciation Society. They all wear cardigans over their shoulders.
Stormer: The Polygamy-Curious Youth Adventure League. They all wear Juniper Creek-style outfits.
Kimber: The Blues Brothers Fan Club and Sausage Appreciation Society. They all dress like the Blues Brothers except with, like, kielbasas hung around their necks.
Stormer: What do you expect from a movie where the love interest frat dude displays that he’s not just a frat dude by taking Sydney on their first date to his volunteer gig at the soup kitchen, which is also where Sydney’s Serendipity 101 professor volunteers?
Kimber: I like when he plays Gurkin’s shitty videogame and beats him and all the nerds are like, “whoa.”
Stormer: Hey. Don’t choke on the REALNESS, Kim.
Kimber: I expect things to be rote in movies like this. Sure. I expect things to happen exactly as expected. But what I don’t understand is why this movie reads like 2 or 3 kind of funny scenes and then the scriptwriters were like, “meh. Just fill the rest of the time with the usual plots that happen in college films.”
Stormer: It’s only one writer listed. He also wrote Legally Blondes. Like, the direct-to-video sequel’s sequel. And he also wrote episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Kimber: That makes all the sense in the world.
Stormer: Unlike Sydney White’s relative nerdishness, scene to scene.