Much like the southern migration of geese, Material Girls has joined what seems to have become an annual occurrence (after 2005’s The Perfect Man and 2004’s Raise Your Voice): the push to turn former teen sensation Hilary Duff into a honest-to-goodness adult actress (not that kind, get your mind out of the gutter). And while the movie isn’t as horribly atrocious as it could have been (or maybe should have been), it is, in the end, hampered by the lack of the one thing the aforementioned geese have: a sense of direction.
The premise is simple. Famous makeup company heiresses, Tanzie (Hilary Duff) and Eva (Hilary’s sister Haylie, Napoleon Dynamite), lose their fortune when it is discovered that their deceased father (TV actor Philip Casnoff) botched the testing of a facial cream, causing the test subjects to look like Jeff Goldblum toward the end of David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). The sisters then manage to burn down their mansion and have their Mercedes stolen within the span of an hour (hasn’t anyone heard of Allstate?). They then realize that the proposed merger of their cosmetics company with the company of rival Fabiella (Anjelica Huston, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, who hopefully took her latest paycheck in order to do more Wes Anderson movies) seems a bit shady, and that their father might not have been as guilty as he had at first seemed. After this, the plot has a number of ways in which it can go, and it seems that director Martha Coolidge (The Prince and Me) decided to try them all.
The failings of this movie tie directly into the fact that no one ever decides what the film should be. Is it a message picture about the evils of money? It starts off in that fashion, but never follows through. By the end, the viewer is more or less left with the idea that poor people are either smelly or eccentric, unless they happen to be a guy with the creepy facial hair of a 13-year-old boy (this means you, Lukas Haas) who will do stuff for you for free. So is the movie a mystery? The second half attempts this, but the filmmakers have no idea how to work this angle, and instead throw in arbitrary clues at the end of the film to fit its predetermined outcome. Is the film instead a satirical look at the lives of socialites who are famous simply because they are famous? (Disregarding the irony that Haylie Duff is only mildly famous as Hilary’s sister.)
The film has removed any possible bite in order to get a PG rating for that all-important preteen girl audience, and as a result any chance of being satirical has flown out the window. There are points in the movie where dialogue regarding sex has been obviously overdubbed in order to get a safer rating. In turn, the attempt at turning Hilary into an actress who is palatable to a more mature audience is undermined, since the makers insist on sanitizing the proceedings.
The performances are serviceable enough, despite the fact that Hilary perpetually has the look of someone who is either confused, or has just seen someone strangle a kitten. Her sister Haylie (who a friend of mine insists on calling “The Ugly Duff-ling,” and one less kind IMDb user said looked like “the head of Satan’s donkey”) fares about the same. If you happen to be a 10-year-old girl, this is likely a must-see, but most everybody else will likely find it a ponderous, plodding mess. Rated PG for language and rude humor.
— reviewed by Justin Souther