THE FILM: First Daughter
THE PAIR: Samantha MacKenzie (Katie Holmes) and James (Marc Blucas)
THE MOMENT: “Dancing with You”
First Daughter is, for me, one of those nostalgic films. It’s a charming romantic-comedy that is so much more than its genre would have us believe. Yes, it’s a romance, but it’s also a coming-of-age story that looks beyond the limitations of its genre to grow into a relevant story of maturity. Consequently, it doesn’t hurt that its leading lady, Samantha, is a classy young woman modern cinema fails to introduce us to very often.
THE LEAD IN
The story is self-explanatory simply by the conclusion of its title. That said, if you’ve not seen it, here’s a quick rundown of the plot, something that will include spoilers. The primary character is First Daughter, Samantha “Sam” McKenzie, an 18-year-old ready for collegian life. With a team of secret service agents following her every move, Sam feels stifled and unable to enjoy a normal college experience as she desperately wants (because after all, she didn’t choose a school 3,000 miles away without reason). She eventually gets herself a two-man detail unaware that the guy, James, she is seeing is actually an agent.
Today’s romantic moment actually comes in pairs and features two pivotal “dance scenes.” They somehow mix fun, flirty, and old-fashioned charm into the scenes. Both as beautiful to re-discover the fifth time as it was the first (maybe even more so). As a result, I’d even go so far as to say First Daughter is really a modern fairy tale.
The First Romantic Moment
After a rocky start to their friendship, Sam decides to “kidnap” her friends (James, and her roommate, Mia) by way of thanking them for taking a risk and befriending her. Whisking them away on Air Force One, she brings them as her guests to a swanky ball hosted at the White House.
Ignoring her duties as First Daughter, after an entrance befitting a princess, Sam leads James to the ballroom floor.
Unaware that he’s feeling guilty because he wants to tell her something (his secret), he asks, “Sam, can we go talk somewhere?”
Glancing over at him with a serene smile, she says, “Sure.” Instead of listening, she instructs him to, “Place your right hand…”
Interrupting, James asks, “What are you doing.”
By now, they’re in the center of an empty floor. “I’m dancing with you” is her reply.
He observes, “No one else is dancing.”
With a sweet bit of sass and devil-may-care attitude, she queries, “And isn’t it a shame?”
Persisting with his guilty conscience, he says, “I need a minute alone with you.”
“And I need your left hand” is her pert and matter-of-fact reply.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” is his reply as he softens under Sam’s gaze.
“Why not?” Sam asks. Slowly moving around the floor, she makes a convincing argument. “Call out the National Guard. Nothing is stopping me from dancing with you tonight.” Her face, a picture of calm and happiness.
Still worried, and unable to enjoy himself because he’s fallen for the president’s daughter, he tries a second time to dissuade her.
“I’m gonna spin now,” she warns and spinning out from James’ arms, she again ignores his worry.
The Second Romantic Moment
Following the discovery that James is a secret service agent, Sam’s heart shatters. As her father heads towards a second term, Sam finally asks her dad to make sure James is okay in light of him losing his job after his personal connection to his protectee.
At her father’s re-election ball, as Sam, striking in a royal purple ball gown, spins out from her father in the first dance, she glimpses her past. In slow motion, a red scarf being flung back reveals James, dapper in a tux, standing at the opposite end of the room.
Sam gazes past her father, eyes locked on James. With a kiss to her forehead and a nod of permission to James, the President walks off the floor leaving the two an empty floor.
Approaching her, James asks her to, “Give me your left hand” as he holds his out to her.
With a confused expression, softly she asks, “What are you doing?”
With confidence, he simply says, “Dancing with you.”
Emotionally, she counters, “We shouldn’t. We can’t.”
Assuming the pose of the dance, with some levity, he replies with a question. “Try not to lead this time, okay?”
As ‘Just the Way you Look Tonight’ plays, they swish and sway to the music. Spinning her out, Sam plays hard to get; she stands on the edge of the floor with a small smile and sways back and forth. As his hand is outstretched to her, she plays up her indecision by pretending to consider whether or not she’ll accept him.
Finally, with a serious expression, she lifts her gloved hand. The camera slow-motion captures her as she slowly places her hand in his. They begin waltzing. Though a crowd surrounds them, it’s as if they’re the only two on the floor.
As the song ends, so does the dance. The two exchange goodbyes with no expectations. Sam walks away, down the red-carpeted hall of the White House. But she pauses to reconsider.
Back in the ballroom, James is also considering the wisdom of letting this amazing girl walk away.
He begins to run after her. Already around the corner in the hall, at the same time, Sam turns around and runs back towards the ballroom – back towards James.
Coming upon each other, looking surprised, Sam asks “Forget something?”
“Yeah,” he says as he cups her neck and pulls her in for a kiss.
As they come apart, with dreamy expressions, Sam remarks, “I just forgot my purse.” Referencing his promotion to her father’s detail, she asks James to “take good care of him.”
Still caressing her face, he replies, “I will.”
Kissing once more, he finishes with, “Just getting back on duty now.”
With a tearful expression, Sam says, “I’m just getting off duty now.” This refers to her duties as First Daughter. She’s again college bound.
They remain there, foreheads touching; their longing is evident as they realize duty comes first. For now, a life together is impossible, but in these final moments, the rekindling of a romance seems possible! Furthermore, Sam will be back in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. Or so the narrator tells us.
Do you like First Daughter? What’s your favorite moment? Comment down below with your thoughts!
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