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The silver spoon daughters of the late cosmetics empire founder Victor Marchetta, Avan and Tanzie, never even took an interest in the business, happy to let it be run by their and the firm's administrator, Tommy Katzenbach, while they lead socialite lives, aiming at a marriage with soap star Mic Rionn. Suddenly a scandal wrecks the firm's stock and their family reputation. Their credit cards are canceled, one of them torches the mansion, the other hands their sports-car to a thief mistaken for a parking valet. So they end up living with their Latina former cleaning lady. Help to investigate whether the firm is really best sold to competitor Fabiella, as Tommy claims, comes from hunky lab technician Rick, whom the previously mistook for the inexistent firm parking lot attendant, and Henry Baines, whose free law for the poor charity they didn't even consider for sponsoring. Written by
There's a moment in Material Girls when the infinitely wise and humble lawyer at the Free Legal Clinic bears down on the equally infinite stupidity of Ava Marchetta (Haylie Duff) and coolly snarls, "you're all frosting, without the cupcake." Granted, this one-liner is of no great wit or intelligence it does hold a kind of all-encompassing truth about Material Girls. Except, in saying Material Girls has as much density as a cupcake's frosting is probably giving the film a world of credit it has no business deserving.
The gimmick of Material Girls is in the Duff sisters. Whatever film photographed behind them on the film's posters is immaterial. For all we care, this could be Hong Kong Kung Fu Fury, just as long as it stars the Duff sisters. So in the same way people go to see Snakes on a Plane just to see some actual snakes on an actual plane, people will go see Material Girls only to watch they're adolescent idols bouncing and hopping and giggling about in front of the camera. The quality of the film behind them is irrelevant; just a prettily painted canvas for a blonde hullabaloo. But for all those parents goaded into bringing their ten-year old daughter, I suppose a synopsis is appropriate. Ava and Tanzie Marchetta (Haylie and Hilary Duff) are the faces of Marchetta Facial Products. They're glistening socialites in the vane world inhabited in reality by Paris Hilton and her partying cohortsminus the sex tapes. They're father, Victor Marchetta, passed away two years earlier and the company will soon be left in the girls' hands. But when a cut-rate newscaster breaks a scandal on Marchetta products causing cancer, the girls' stock plummets and they're left, gasp, without their credit cards. The girls must unite and disprove the accusations in order to save the image of their father. In the process of course, Ava and Tanzie must learn humility and sincerity through the conduit of their loss of funds and fortune.
Director Martha Coolidge stumbles in her approach to the material. The film's intention bounces between parody and sentimentality. Sometimes it strives to ooze sympathy for its ditzy protagonists and rolls out the morals by the bushel. But other times, Coolidge ravages her characters with a volley of farcical gags. There's a happy middle-ground between the two intentions that a better director would likely find: where the believably clueless socialites learn to interact with the similarly convincing world of middle-class American society. But Coolidge veers more towards the feel of a sitcom, sans laugh-track. Without it, the jokes fall flat. Neither of the Duffs have a sense of comic timing and the screenplay doesn't bother with helping them along. Material Girls is so woefully unfunny that not even the heaps of twelve-year girls could be heard laughing.
Just before the film started, I mistimed my restroom break and admittedly missed the opening minute or two of the movie. I asked my girlfriend, who'd been kind enough to sit through its entirety, what I'd missed afterwards in that opening minute. She explained it to me and I felt a deep sympathy for her. She was subjected to two more minutes of Material Girls, and the thought of any more torture was physically painful to me. That's essentially the effect Material Girls has: it is physically painful to endure.
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