Hilary Duff

The Perfect Man (2005)


You can’t get much lazier than The Perfect Man, a romantic comedy short on romance and comedy. Featuring a mother and daughter duo played by Heather Locklear and Hilary Duff, it instead serves up idiocy by the bucketfuls. The two engage in decision-making that will make you seriously question the judgment of both characters, with the prize for most irrational ending in a frustrating toss-up.

Jean, the mother, earns the distinction early on when she announces to her two daughters that the family is shipping out of town, again, and just when teenager Holly was readying herself for her first dance. The reason? Her latest boyfriend has just broken up with her. I guess one night stands, drunk karaoke, or yoga don’t exist in her world. This time, they head for Brooklyn, where it seems a single mother can settle into a cozy two bedroom flat on a baker’s wage. Ever on the hunt for The Perfect Man, she grabs opportunity wherever she finds it, and the first chance is at a PTA meeting at Holly’s new school. Jean’s desperation runs thick and fast, though not so much that she’ll say “yes” to an surprise proposal by her lumpy Styx-loving coworker (Mike O’Malley). Her desire to find love and to be a good mother earn sympathy, but someone help a girlfriend out. She needs to find herself, and a hobby.

Holly realizes this and, wanting the best for her otherwise loving mom, decides to set her up with a fake online date. I can see the desperation on her part; she’s the new girl in school and has already been pegged as the one with the lovesick mom. It’s meant to be a quick fix; Holly will write a few emails as TPM to humor her mother and take Jean’s mind off more embarrassing moves, but things get out of hand when Jean actually falls for her phantom lover. Holly has no choice but to perpetuate the lie by enlisting the help of her new best friend’s charming Uncle Ben (Chris Noth), a handsome restaurateur who advises the girls on how to woo women (it’s all about the orchids) and, unbeknownst to him, lends his likeness to the project.

But of course Holly does have a choice, the one in which she acts reasonably and either confesses to her mother or seeks advice from a sober adult, like Jean’s black best friend and boss (Kym Whitley). You could mine a lot more out of their characters, especially the root of Jean’s insecurity, if the whole movie didn’t turn on one long gag about the bad use of technology. Instead, it’s a joke that tries too hard. It goes the distance with whatever harebrained idea pops up, not realizing that crazy doesn’t equal funny or romantic. Who would want to spend time with people so misguided and unaware? Locklear doesn’t help the cause by acting like she has some bills to pay. I get it; we all have something better to do that doesn’t involve this movie.

Released: 2005
Prod: Billy Higgins
Dir: Mark Rosman
Writer: Gina Wendkos
Cast: Hilary Duff, Heather Locklear, Chris Noth, Mike O’Malley, Ben Feldman, Vanessa Lengies, Caroline Rhea, Kym Whitley, Aria Wallace
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

A Cinderella Story

cinderella story

There’s nothing wrong with new retellings of old stories, and as far as Cinderella goes, there have been some pretty imaginative ones. In my books, Ever After hits the high mark with a very strong-willed heroine and a prince who loves her for it, but the 1997 television musical also deserves an honorable mention for its talented and diverse cast. Most recently, Kenneth Branagh charmed with a visually lush adaptation, itself based on the classic Disney animated film. So it’s not too hard to imagine why someone would transfer the fairy tale to modern day San Fernando Valley.

A worthy update takes more than switching names and scenery though, and this movie tries to mask its shortcomings by simply twisting the familiar. The basic Cinderella elements are in place but not in any meaningful form. Sam/Cinderella (Hilary Duff) is an average high school senior who works at her father’s diner, now run by her evil stepmother, Fiona (Jennifer Coolidge). She keeps her sanity by exchanging messages via Samsung flip-phone and AIM, since it is 2004, with “Nomad”/Austin/Prince Charming (Chad Michael Murray), who happens to go to the same school.

The film reaches what are supposed to be its emotional peaks by riding on assumptions from previous interpretations, however. Why, for example, does Sam’s kind father marry such a patently awful woman? Why is Austin so daft that he can’t figure out his dance partner is his classmate? Why does Sam think Austin, the school’s resident stud and star quarterback, would never like her even though they speak often and he’s consistently kind to her? Why does Regina King play an angry black woman whose only purpose is to protect Sam?

These are questions that are never remotely addressed, and the lack of motivation behind any character makes this one of the most lifeless and unimaginative Cinderella retellings I’ve seen. Sam is sweet to be sure and is damn good at baseball, but as far as compelling heroines go, she offers little. Likewise, Duff smiles, shrugs her shoulders, and hopes it’s enough to win the audience; it’s not. Even Sam’s immediate goal – getting into Princeton – is treated as an afterthought. It’s occasionally an urgent plot point, but her desire to fulfill her father’s promise and to get the hell away from her stepmother does not really fuel her character.

The same can be said for Austin, whose dad wants him to forgo the Ivy Leagues in favor of a football scholarship at USC and then a lifetime of managing the family petrol station. That resentment could be leveraged for some compelling insight into both his and Sam’s lives, which are at that blissfully hopeful point where anything seems possible. But he mostly sighs and pines and generally looks dreamy, or like he is dreaming. I can’t imagine myself as a teenage girl and being moved by Austin’s anemic response to everything. Thankfully, you can always count on Coolidge for laughs, even if she walks through her part, in a bubble gum pink, slutty Mrs. Claus get-up. In an oddly prescient moment, she yells in her Donald Trump voice, “Droughts are for poor people….People who use extra water have extra class.” To which I would add, “Don’t watch A Cinderella Story. It’s bad.”

Released: 2004
Prod: Clifford Werber, Ilyssa Goodman, Hunt Lowry, Dylan Sellers
Dir: Mark Rosman
Writer: Leigh Dunlop
Cast: Hilary Duff, Chad Michael Murray, Jennifer Coolidge, Regina King, Dan Byrd, Julie Gonzalo, Brad Bufanda, Simon Helberg, J.D. Pardo
Time: 95 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015