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August 18, 2006 | Comments ()

By Miscellaneous | Film | August 18, 2006 |


I was tempted to claim here that I am incapable of imagining the target demographic for this movie. It would make me feel better, truly, to look out upon the vast sea of humanity and find no eye gazing at this (now metaphorical) screen. Sadly, however, I reckon I’ve got a pretty good fix on the image-obsessed, scary-thin, insufficiently clad, reality-TV-drone tweenie set at which this dreck is aimed.

The plot, such as it is, follows sisters Ava (Haylie Duff) and Tanzania Marchetta (Hilary Duff, and no, I shit you not on the name), who stand to inherit their deceased father’s cosmetics company and all the attendant fortune. That the characters hew closely to certain expectations we’ve all crafted from Internet gossips and tabloid obsessives — high fashion, glamorous parties, matching bejewelled SideKicks — is so obvious that I hate to point it out, but there it is. There’s really not a great deal more there; there are some half-hearted attempts to humanize and round out the sisters, but such efforts end up feeling more confusing than defining.

In the midst of a tribute party for their father, a TV news expose claims that Marchetta cosmetics have caused horrifying skin disorders that the company has covered up or some such. Anyway, quite literally overnight Ava and Tanzie find themselves disgraced, homeless and — due to some barely credible credit-card contrivance — penniless. Of course, they’re not actually poor. All they have to do is sell the company to arch-rival Fabiella (Anjelica Huston) and each of them nets $60 million. That even the notion of poverty is applied to these two is preposterous and offensive, but somehow ends up being the implied drive for the remainder of the movie. A remainder that is, of course, exceedingly predictable, as the duo try to clear their father’s good name, save the company, and get back to being rich again. They’re joined, sort of, by company CEO Tommy (Brent Spiner, who actually does make a direct Star Trek reference that I imagine still won’t resonate with most of the audience) and a pair of lower-class love interests, one of whom is played by a bored-looking Lukas Haas. I’m fairly certain even the 6-year-old in the back row knew who the “villain” was going to end up being within the first 20 minutes, but when the worst case scenario ends with the protagonists as, um, still exceedingly wealthy, it’s hard to really care anyway.

Ultimately, the film itself ends up being a kind of meta-representation of the culture it depicts. It’s the thinnest possible story trying to support a cast full of marionettes instead of characters with dimension. Essentially every joke is a throwaway, low-hanging fruit — Tanzie donates her old Dolce & Gabbana to the homeless, Tara Reid and Fred Durst are implicated in Spice Girls karaoke, etc., ad nauseum. And, oh, before I forget, hardly a scene goes by in which someone doesn’t use some sort of hopelessly outmoded slang. I think the writers were trying to be cute, but, really, having the black CFO refer to the girls’ inheritance as “cheddar?” Guys. Really? And dear sweet baby Jesus, don’t get me started on “chillax.” It’s not even funny in a self-referentially lame way. I admit, I did laugh once and, while it may have just been because I needed so very badly to feel some kind of emotion at all, I can’t deny that the shifty hillbilly-type guy threatening to set his neighbor’s cat on fire was pretty funny. I’m just a sucker for jokes about setting stuff on fire, I guess.

It may well be impossible to effectively satirize the Starlet/Heiress axis of superficiality. The whole business would appear to me — and, I hope, to most non-idiots — to be absurd on its face. When the reality is already so purposefully, unabashedly, conspicuously over-the-top shallow, what tools are left to the satirist? Such a send-up would be wonderful, but this movie certainly isn’t it. It’s just another insipid, uninspired advertisement for a lucrative brand. In fact, following the show, a theatre employee handed me a sampler package of perfume with the Hilary Duff trademark (quite literally) scrawled across the bottom. I don’t believe I could possibly have concocted a more appropriate conclusion.

Kerry Benton is a film critic for Pajiba. You can see him in action as “k” on The Supernicety.

Lifestyles of the Vapid and Superficial

Material Girls / Kerry Benton

Film | August 18, 2006 | Comments ()




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