The word “perfect” should not be used anywhere near this disappointing and downright icky would-be romantic comedy, in which a teenage girl creates a fake online boyfriend to cheer up her lonely mother.
Jeane (Heather Locklear) is a gifted baker and a loving parent but who is foolish about men. Every time one of the losers dumps her, she leaves town, taking her daughters with her, most recently settling in Brooklyn. Holly (Hillary Duff, looking raccoon-ish in much too much dark eyeliner and wearing pants that reveal much too much lower midriff) is tired of moving and can’t bear to see her mother in another bad relationship. When Jean begins to date a Styx-loving bread baker, Holly decides her mother needs a “perfect man,” even if she has to make one up.
It begins with an orchid and a note, but soon escalates to emails, instant messages, and a phone call. Holly gets guidance from her friend’s handsome Uncle Ben (Chris Noth). Jean begins to fall in love with a man who is perfect in every respect except for not actually existing.
Even by the suspended-disbelief standards of fluff like this film, the story quickly tips over into the uncomfortable category of severe dysfunction that is made even more unnerving because this behavior exists in a movie world that has no idea of the boundaries that are being violated.
It’s bad enough that Holly is continuously untruthful and manipulative. She violates her mother’s trust, taking advantage of her greatest vulnerability. She is careless and selfish. Her plots are portrayed as charming and well-intentioned, but they cause real damage to feelings and to property and she never accepts responsibility for what she has done.
And the ick factor keeps intruding. A boy who likes Holly (the likeable Ben Feldman as Adam) becomes a part of the plot when Holly makes him get on the phone with Jean. Instead of “breaking up” with her, as Holly told him to, he says to Jean what he would like to say to Holly. Gazing at a photo of Holly, he says lovey-dovey things to her mother. Ewww. Later, things are reversed and Jean sends instant messages to Adam, who thinks he is getting them from Holly. Ewwwwww.
There is something unsavory about the idea of a daughter romancing her mother by proxy. The script’s complete cluelessness about that key point creates its own boundary issues and it goes from charming to creepy very quickly. The creepiest thing about it is that it does not realize how creepy it is.
Locklear is, as always, a warm and inviting presence (though never persuasive as a woman who is desperate for a boyfriend), and Duff, as always, can deliver at most three different expressions — shy, wistful, and uncertain but determined. “Queer Eye’s” Carson Kressley is on hand for some warmed-over wisecracks delivered without any of his trademark tszujing. In fact, the movie, far from “perfect,” is an entirely tszuj-free zone.
Parents should know that while this movie does not have the usual triggers for an MPAA rating of higher than PG, it does have some behavior that will be of concern to some families, especially the complete lack of boundaries, Holly’s constant lying and manipulation (portrayed as light-hearted and well-intentioned, but causing real damage to emotions and property). There are some mild language issues — for example, Holly is referred to as a “skin virgin” because she has no tattoos or piercings. Holly wears skimpy and revealing clothing. A strength of the movie is the positive portrayal of a gay character, but it is undercut with some stereotyped humor.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Jean had such bad judgment about the men in her life. What would have been a better way for Holly to help her mother?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Duff’s other films, including The Lizzie Maguire Movie and and A Cinderella Story. They will also enjoy a WWII-era film called Dear Ruth, about a teenage girl who writes to a soldier, pretending to be her older sister, and Dear Frankie, about a mother who writes letters to her young son, pretending they come from his father. Families might also like to listen to some Styx classics. Look closely at the lead singer in the Styx tribute band in the movie, by the way. It is none other than real-life Styx-er Dennis DeYoung.