Jennifer Merin reviews “Material Girls”
No doubt pre-teens– especially girls aged seven to twelve– will find Material Girls an entertaining lesson in how to grow up. But for older and more sophisticated audiences, this film holds little edification, and very few surprises.
In a perfectly predictable plot, two appallingly spoiled teenage socialite sisters (Hilary Duff as Tanzie and Haley Duff as Ava) face the loss of their inheritance (the Marchetta Cosmetics Company, founded by their father) and status (their deceased dad is accused of a scandalous coverup regarding a skin-damaging product).
Almost instantaneously, the girls experience the self-shattering descent from being divas to becoming down-and-outs whore no longer whisked by waiting wannabes at LAs hottest clubs– and even if they were, couldnt afford chic clothes to wear and a ritzy ride to get them there.
Actually, the desperation of their plight isnt quite convincing– nor does it engender much sympathy. For one thing, its hard to believe any savvy businessman dad who loved his kids as much as Marchetta loved Tanzie and Ava would raise them to be such utter dodos– for example, they hand over their Mercedes keys to street thugs whom they take for valet parkers. Duh! Secondly, their life-changing hardships seem about as grave, relevant and challenging as those seen on Hilton-fueled reality TV– for example, that they must ride busses because they lost their Mercedes. Such suffering!
Okay, so in the end, the film can boast a positive message: the girls successfully grapple with restoring their dads reputation and reestablishing the companys street cred (and profits), and in doing so, they discover theyre capable of defining their personal goals and realizing their dreams. Theyre happier, better people. But, that outcomes perfectly predictable, too.
The Duffs performances are cute and charming– and suitingly surperficial. As Tommy, the girls fathers trusted former partner and their trustee, Brent Spinner delivers some amusing malapropisms amidst his characters rather unremarkable smarminess.
One of the films best surprises is finding Angelica Huston, as gracious and truthful as ever, playing badass business bitch, Fabiella, whos efforts to take over Marchettas company push the limits– and catapult the girls into growing up.
But the biggest surprise is that Material Girls director is Martha Coolidge, acclaimed as one of Americas foremost female filmmakers. Coolidge, whose early features include the still-popular Valley Girls (1983), clearly outgrew the teen genre with Rambling Rose (1991), an unadulteratedly grownup– and Oscar-nominated– film and went on to make the moving and memorable Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999). Finding Coolidge back on the teen track with this production is sad– perhaps even alarming– and leads one to wonder whether female filmmakers are yet again facing filmdoms celluloid ceiling. Hope not. It would be great to see Coolidge make more movies that appeal to more mature audiences, too.