Material Girls Review
By Shawn McKenzie 08/20/2006
Tanzie (Hilary Duff) and Ava (Haylie Duff) Marchetta are a couple of spoiled socialite sisters who have never had to work a day in their life. It wasn’t always like that though. Their father, Victor (Philip Casnoff), was a chemist who invented a line of natural cosmetics, and he started a booming company called Marchetta Cosmetics that aims for 18 to 25-year-old consumers. In turn, he spoiled his daughters, and they now act like divas. Victor has been gone for two years now (their mother abandoned them when they were young), and they both still miss him. Tanzie still watches a TiVo recording of one of her father’s infomercials daily in hopes that she will be able to gather some wisdom from him, since she is a biology student who wants to go to UCLA to be a chemist herself. They both have many friends who support them. Inez (Maria Conchita Alonso) is their Colombian maid who acts like the girls’ substitute mother (she is still waiting for her own two daughters to come up from Colombia, but red tape has prevented it.) Etienne (Eric “Ty” Hodges) is a flamboyant gay man who is the girls’ hanger-on. Charlene (Colleen Camp) is the girls’ media handler. Mic Rionn (Brandon Beemer), the star of a WB-like show “Long Island,” is Ava’s fiancée. Victor’s business partner, Tommy Katzenbach (Brent Spiner), is the CEO of Marchetta Cosmetics and girls’ trustee. He has his own staff that looks out for the girls: Craig (Obba Babatundé) is the CFO, and he is constantly on the phone; Pam (Faith Prince) is Tommy’s senior secretary; and Jaden (Reagan Dale Neis) is an intern who has recently had a nose job done to match the noses of the girls. The girls are part of the staff as well, since they are “the face of Marchetta Cosmetics” (their faces are plastered all over the company’s advertisements.) Things seem to be perfect, despite sales slipping since Victor’s death, resulting in rival cosmetics maker Fabiella (Anjelica Huston) offering to buy the company. Things change though when a local Los Angeles TV reporter named Ned Nakamori (Henry Cho) makes a claim that a woman named Margo Thorness (Judy Tenuta) participated in a test study of the company’s Everdew formula, which resulted in scarring and lifelong disfigurement. The girls’ assets are frozen while an investigation begins, and Fabiella offers to buy the company for 60 cents on the dollar, since the bad press has made its stock drop significantly. Their whole world turns upside down, and suddenly she discovers that their “friends” aren’t quite as supportive as they originally thought. After they accidentally burn down their house, they stay with Inez (they assume that a couple of street kids, played by Joel and Benji Madden from the rock band Good Charlotte, are valets.) They go to Ava’s engagement party, where they see Etienne make a break for it once they see the girls arrive. Ava also finds out that Mic has dumped her, though it was done through Mic’s agent Sol (Larry Poindexter.) They don’t want to sell their father’s company to Fabiella, so they start their own investigation, based on Tanzie’s viewing of 2000’s Erin Brockovich (especially the famous scene of Julia Roberts leaning over a counter with her cleavage in full view to obtain information for her case.) Since their friends are no help, and Tommy is determined to dump the company, Inez is their only support left, but they find other help elsewhere. Ava meets a free clinic lawyer named Henry Baines (Lukas Haas) who is willing to help them with any legal issues they have (he originally met the girls at a meeting of charity representatives. They dismissed his plea for funding because it didn’t have anything to do with a disease.) Meanwhile, Tanzie receives help from a Marchetta Cosmetics lab tech named Rick (Marcus Coloma), who shares her interest in chemistry (they both assumed that he was a Marchetta valet, since he always parks their car for them…without stealing it.) During the process of the investigation, the girls fall in love with their new male helpers. They discover some snakes within the company, but they also discover some humility.
It’s no secret that I can’t stand Hilary Duff. From 2003’s Agent Cody Banks to last year’s Cheaper by the Dozen 2, I have yet to like a movie of hers. On the flipside, her sister, Haylie, has had some better luck with me in critical terms. Of course, it has been mostly on TV (FOX’s “Boston Public,” CBS’s “Joan of Arcadia,” the WB’s “7th Heaven”), but she was also memorable in a supporting role in 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite. Aside from their collaboration in the music video for their cover version of the Go-Gos’ “Our Lips Are Sealed” (from Hilary’s 2004 movie A Cinderella Story) and a TV commercial for Ice Breakers gum, Material Girls is their first real project together. It might end up being their last one together though.
The movie started out promising. Two spoiled rich girls are humbled by the loss of their money, and they learn to adapt. Obviously, the Hilton sisters inspired the characters, so I was hoping to see more of their spoiled antics. I thought I would be seeing the fictional version of FOX/E! Entertainment’s “The Simple Life”…and parts of it were funny with that element. The scenes that amused me were when they could do ten text messages in a minute as an example of their typing skills at an employment office, or when they thought that the bus fee was supposed to be the tip for how good the bus driving service was. If they had included more things like that, I might have liked the movie better.
The supporting cast was wasted here. Spiner’s character was so over-the-top slimy that his plotline is easily predicted (I hope that doesn’t spoil anything for anyone.) Also, I find it odd that he can’t escape “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” There is a scene where he says “beam me up” when he is in a meeting with Huston’s character. They must have paid him an extra fee for that joke. Speaking of Huston…she is slumming it by appearing in a Duff movie. What’s next…a Tom Green movie? The two love interests…Haas and Coloma…do an okay job, but I’m sorry…is Haas actually unattractive, or was he made up that way in this movie? (I read on the Wikipedia page for the movie that he wasn’t happy about the film, so that’s probably why he looks so bored in it.) Alonso was the heart of the movie, and she could have been utilized more.
Veteran director Martha Coolidge helmed Material Girls, so I thought that it would rise above the usual Hilary Duff movie. I liked Coolidge’s last theatrical movie, 2004’s The Prince & Me, and it did turn out better than Hilary’s last starring effort, 2005’s The Perfect Man, but it’s far from Coolidge’s classics, like 1983’s Valley Girl or 1985’s Real Genius. Until I see Haylie starring in a lead role herself without Hilary’s help, I’ll have to reserve judgment on her leading skills, but until that happens, she’ll have to settle for being Hilary’s older, more talented sister.
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