The problem with a movie about rich people learning about real life that is written by rich people who have no idea about real life is that you end up with something like this — a movie about two rich girls, heirs to a cosmetics fortune, who lose everything, discover what really matters, and end up demonstrating that by making the cosmetics affordable so that prostitutes can buy them.
I’m not kidding. I wish I was.
Real-life sisters Hillary (Lizzie Maguire) and Haylie (Napoleon Dynamite) Duff play Tanzy and Ava Marchetta, whose late father founded a successful cosmetics company. They are due to inherit when they come of age, but his best friend, the current CEO (Brent Spiner) recommends that they sell the company to its rival, run by Fabiella (Anjelica Huston). Before they can agree, a news report that one of the products caused severe skin damage throws the company into chaos. And the girls accidentally burn down their house and turn over their car to someone they assume is a valet but who turns out to be a thief.
They have nowhere to go but the apartment of Inez (Maria Conchita Alonso), their maid.
Ava’s TV star boyfriend dumps her — through his agent. Their fancy party friends don’t want to know them any more. Fabiella makes another offer, much lower. If they sell, the company their father built will no longer exist.
Yes, of course it all turns out fine and there’s a happily ever after ending complete with cute new boyfriends. But on the way there, the movie has a surprising number of bad choices ranging from the odd to the unfortunate, inappropriate, and downright ugly, considering the target audience and the PG rating.
For example, inspired by watching Erin Brocovich, Tanzy uses a skimpy outfit to entice a young man to let her look at some hidden records. She is arrested and put into a cell with three prostitutes who stroke her arm in a menacing fashion — then she turns it all around, using sand caught between the toes of one as she ran from the cops, to by teach them how to exfoliate their skin.
The girls also use some strong language for a PG movie. What is the purpose in a movie like this of a line like “screwier than Courtney Love?” Or “I’m so sorry I slept with your dad?” There is disturbing footage of skin disorders. Most important, the very values the movie purports to communicate are undermined by the approval it expects for its characters’ choices. The great revelations the girls have about the importance of helping the poor are supposed to be shown by their commitment to cheaper cosmetics and arranging for a friend’s children to be allowed into the country.
Superb actors like Anjelica Houston, Obba Babatunde, and Lukas Haas (Witness) are criminally wasted and only make the Duff sisters’ very limited acting skills look even weaker by comparison.
Parents should know that this movie has, as noted, very strong language and references for a PG, including the s-word, a reference to “white trash” (supposed to be funny), jokes about using Preparation H to get rid of eye bags (especially idiotic given that the girls are supposed to know all about cosmetics), “you practically jump each other,” “I heard that on the bus people pee on the seats,” “he was going to go straight for us,” and more. Character (briefly) drink and smoke (though one expresses horror at cigarettes). Characters are prostitutes. Tanzy wears skimpy clothes to get a young man to let her get what she wants. There is a reference to an overdose of birth control pills. A character has a nose job so she can look like Tanzy. Overall, even the supposedly reformed behavior of the girls is not what parents would like their children to imitate.
Families who see this movie should talk about why the girls were so spoiled and inconsiderate. Why does Tanzy say she wished her father had been harder on her? Why does Ava say she didn’t like how hard their father was on her?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Lizzie Maguire and the much better film Cow Belles.