Material Girls Review
There are many reasons why I have no interest in a romance with a teenage girl. The law is one and would probably that which would be foremost should the situation ever arise. We would sit grumbling in the venues of each other's choosing, me in a nightclub where I'd complain about not being able to hear myself think and she is a cosy pub in which I can read the paper, have a pint of ale and enjoy a single malt or nine. Not that I'd ever actually be noticed by a teenage girl. I suspect they don't actually see thirtysomething men in the way that a short time in London prevents you from noticing the vast amount of filth that litters the place. This might well explain how Sam and Amanda, the frothy, pink and bubbly teenage girls in Big Brother don't notice Jonathan, the uncomfortable looking forty-nine-year-old who was, until recently, sharing the Big Brother house with them. It must be that he simply doesn't fit into their world of pop songs, feather boas and bikinis and so doesn't appear in their view of the world. Although how that is so is anyone's guess given that his testicles hung out the bottom of his shorts so frequently that you'd think the show was sponsored by the importers of kiwi fruit.
But in watching Material Girls, a film no doubt inspired by the Madonna song as well as countless riches-to-rags stories, I have to confess that it's the thought of watching a film like this over and over again that would have me reaching for the home-castration kit of morphine pills, a bottle of brandy, rubber gloves and a pair of garden shears. It stars Hilary and Haylie Duff as a pair of screaming ninnies, Tanz and Ava Marchetta, who are a pair of rich young heiresses to a cosmetics business and who also feature in the billboard and television advertisements for the company. Ava is perfectly happy swanning around Los Angeles enjoying club life, free drinks - non-alcoholic, naturally - and the free cosmetics, beauty products and health club pampering that comes with modelling Marchetta. Tanzie, on the other hand, is applying to various colleges in the hope of studying chemistry, wanting to prove herself not only beautiful but brainy and more than capable of carrying on her late father's work in Marchetta.
Unfortunately, the gossip channels are alive with rumours that Marchetta products are causing a higher-than-average number of allergic reactions amongst their customers. Women who had hoped to look beautiful now look hideous and as the news makes it to the mainstream media, Marchetta shares tumble. The millions of dollars that the girls had hoped to inherit are now frozen and they find themselves thrown out of their house with nothing but the clothes they could grab before their house burns down. And a Tivo. While Tanzie and Ava are now dropped by their celebrity circle, they're advised by the rest of the Marchetta boards to accept the deal they're being offered by a rival cosmetics company, Fabiella (run by Anjelica Houston). But something seems amiss, not least the haste with which Marchetta chairman, Tommy (Brent Spiner) seems prepared to accept the Fabiella offer as well as the idea that their father might have invented a cream that scarred young women. Setting themselves up as detectives and enlisting the help of Henry (Lukas Haas) and Rick (Marcus Coloma), Tanzie and Ava set out to find out what happened to Marchetta and who is saying terrible things about their late father's work.
Material Girls was beset by rumours that it was so dreadful a film that its makers were considering not releasing it. Lukas Haas did say, in at least two interviews, that he would be surprised if it made it into cinemas but it may be that he doubted the loyalty of Hiary Duff fans who, following the television show Lizzie McGuire, various albums, two Cheaper By The Dozen films and A Cinderella Story, Duff has a fanbase that very few stars of a similar age would pass up. Unfortunately, they may by now be a little more demanding of Hilary Duff with Marterial Girls earning less than $15m in its short time in the theatres, somewhat less than Duff's personal earnings the year before. Watching Material Girls, it's easy to understand why that might be and how Haas wasn't very far wrong in his thoughts on the film he'd just starred in.
Even by the very low standards set by teen comedies, this is lifeless stuff. The average Anne Hathaway film is no great shakes either but at least there are laughs, some drama and some fiery lines in The Devil Wears Prada and the two Princess Diaries film, things that are lacking from this feature. All of the blame can't really be laid at the feet of Hilary Duff, though. Haylie Duff is, by some margin, the more annoying of the two Duff sisters and it's her that you'll actually be somewhat glad to see penniless, miserable and alone, being a just reward for the horrors of having to listen to her shrieking early in the film. Lukas Haas ought to have borne some responsibility for the failure of the film in the interviews he gave as his performance is so lacking, his character is almost see-through. However, most of the problems come with the writing, which has so little that's original that one expects various copyright notices to pop up throughout the film. Of course, the rich girls lose all of their money. Of course, they find love in the least likely of places. And of course it ends happily but whilst the most undemanding of teen audiences may enjoy it while it plays in the background of a sleepover, in the less forgiving light of a viewing while alone, it's neither funny, charming or sassy. And it offers all the drama of posting a letter.
Then again, I am not its intended audience and in watching it alongside my seven-year-old daughter, who is probably too young for it, I was shown that it can be thought of as enjoyable if you don't demand very much more than two reasonably attractive girls dressing up, running about in high heels and winning out in the end. The kind of girl who's just put away her Bratz dolls for god would probably find much to like in this but Hilary Duff will need to do much more to leap out of teen movies and television. This isn't the film to make that move.
Issued by Momentum, this is very typical of their releases, being a good-looking transfer accompanied by a DD5.1 English audio track and English subtitles. There's nothing to really criticise about any of it other than it being neither a great example of a film on DVD nor a poor one. Anamorphically presented in 1.85:1, the blacks are pretty good, detail is reasonable but by no means outstanding and colour, if a touch bland, is fine. It does look like a made-for-television film but that's not surprising given the presence of Hilary Duff, who is still best known for Lizzie McGuire, and the limitations of the budget. However, the intended audience for this film will not care a jot about any of that. Equally, they may not be at all bothered that the DD5.1 is not a particularly impressive one when they'll just enjoy the songs scattered about the soundtrack, which includes two by Hilary Duff, and pick up the dialogue even in the club scene early in the film.
The main bonus feature is a Making Of (16m41s), which invites the cast and director Martha Coolidge to discuss the film, its production and how it offered star Hilary Duff, what with its smoking, nightclub scenes and kissing, something approaching an adult role. There's much behind-the-scenes footage of the Duff sisters on the set cut between interviews with them and while things are very positive as presented here, one gets the impression that some of the interviews, particularly the vague Lukas Haas, are hiding their dislike of the film.
This is followed by Getting To Know Hilary And Haylie (9m42s) in which, in between footage from the film, we are presented in the Duff sisters fooling around in the park with their dogs, interviewed together and sitting in make-up. They don't have very much to say about the film other than a summary of the plot and their part in it, which suggests that their creative input as limited, but it's a suitably light piece that is all that is needed to present the Duff sisters on the screen.
Otherwise, there is a Commentary with director Martha Coolidge, which is a brisk affair that doesn't delve very deeply into the making of the affair other than to permit Coolidge to flatter the cast, the crew and the finished film. Nor does it attempt to find very much meaning in the film but that may be because there isn't any other than to say money doesn't matter a great deal but Coolidge somehow manages to avoid explaining that notion away from her Hollywood-backed vehicle for the star of a major teen television comedy. Finally, there is a Trailer (2m06s) and a Music Video (3m11s), being Play With Fire by Hilary Duff.