Here’s the skinny on Phat Girlz — it’s a whole lot better than you’d expect, especially coming from a first-time director (Nnegest Likke). It delivers a worthwhile message about the joy of loving yourself for who you are. At times, it’s funny, even sweet, and the most gorgeous male creature on the planet is the male lead. Alas, Phat Girlz‘ benefits don’t outweigh its liabilities — read on — and it ends up alienating the very audience it hopes to attract.
Jazmin Biltmore (Mo’Nique, Domino) is a smart, vibrant, quick-witted single working gal. She’s also really fat. Not plumpish like Queen Latifah, but grotesquely obese like Kirstie Alley at her most out-of-control stage. Yes, Jazmin is beautiful (all the goddess’ daughters are beautiful), but she over-eats so flagrantly that visions of her clogged arteries and future medical bills really short-portion sympathy toward her character.
Jazmin has legitimate complaints about corporate America — there aren’t enough pretty clothes for plus-size women. Without those pretty clothes, Jazmin and her chunky friend Stacey (Kendra C. Johnson) believe, men will spend all their time pursuing matchsticks like their cousin, Mia (Joyful Drake, Beauty Shop). Jazmin is convinced that the sex lives of fat American women, if not to mention their chances to marry and have children, are dependent upon getting nice-looking clothes. She dreams of starting a fashion company for queen-size women. She has the usual obstacles African-American heroines must face in feel-good movies.
In the meantime, she takes a dandy detour from business when she spends the weekend at a Palm Springs spa and meets Tunde, a Nigerian doctor, played by Haitian-born model Jimmy Jean-Louis (Monster-in-Law). He is the most gorgeous male creature on the planet I mentioned earlier. Coming from Nigeria, where large women are desirable, the good doctor is enchanted by Jazmin. In his silken, kindly voice with the barest hint of a French accent, he reminds her how lovable she is, urges her to stop using profane language (wow!), and instead of rushing her into bed, he’s the quintessential gentleman and kisses her hand. (Be still my heart!) But Jazmin throws a hissy fit when she sees Tunde conversing with a thin white female colleague, and splits.
Back home and miserable in L.A., Jazmin concentrates on her entrepreneurial skills and gets a lucky break. In quick montages, without any helpful explanation of the creative principles behind them, Jazmin’s designs march down the runway and into fashion-success headlines. Everyone in the movie acts like the designs are fantastic. Boy, do we have a case of the Empress’ new clothes here: You can quote me, the designs are awful. I mean horribly, tastelessly, infuriatingly awful. They make women look like tawdry stuffed sausages. It’s unbelievable that a movie in which fashion is a key element would have the most laughably bad costuming in recent cinema history.
So, hefty beauties, forget trying to learn some fashion tips from Phat Girlz. Oh, and maybe forget about getting your dream man here at home, too. Jazmin has to go all the way to Africa to get hers. I suppose it’s a happy ending for her that she marries a Nigerian doctor and lives happily ever after, but I bet there are a lot of women in Nigeria who wouldn’t agree. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language, including some crude sexual references.
– reviewed by Marcianne Miller