Worst Movie of 2005:
The Perfect Man, Hilary Duff and Heather Locklear
Heather Locklear totally rocked on “Melrose Place.” As Amanda Woodward, she was tough, sexy, and slightly sadistic. She made the show worth watching again after a dismal first season and too much Alison and Billy melodrama. When she gave Alison her weekly smack down, I was elated. That is how I’ll always remember Locklear.
THE PERFECT MAN
So imagine my surprise when her new drama, “LAX,” was cancelled after a couple of shows and she ended up on a Hilary Duff vehicle. I know it’s tough to be an aging actress in an industry that values youth and Botox, but this was just too much. And it becomes painfully clear that when someone like Heather Locklear is cast in a role that requires her to be a needy man-hunter that has trouble not being cheated on, there’s something terribly wrong.
The Perfect Man is the epitome of light Hollywood fluff. The script is trite, the dialogue clumsy and confusing, and the characters one-dimensional and oblivious. In addition to these flaws, watching this film makes it feel like days have passed. The ending is tacked on almost as an after-thought and, in true form, it’s a happy one.
Hilary Duff is by no means a great actress, but she does a better job here than she did in the abysmal A Cinderella Story. This turn of events is probably due to her character, Holly, being a spoiled brat for the better half of the film – and Duff does whiny like nobody’s business. Of course, Duff looks very pristine throughout the movie, save for her giant teeth. I cannot vouch for the actual timeline, but I do believe this film was shot before her sudden weight loss and veneer job. In other words, she looks healthy and happy. On the other hand, Holly wears the most eye make-up I’ve ever seen on a sixteen-year old.
As we begin the film, we learn that the Hamiltons have lived all over the United States. This isn’t due to the fact that they’re in a traveling circus or are nomads, but because mom Jean (Locklear) is constantly entering relationships with losers who end up breaking her heart. Instead of deleting their number from her speed dial, she picks up her family, comprised of Holly (Duff) and little Zoe (Aria Wallace), and flees the city in search for a new life and a new man. It’s excessive, yes, and also stupid. Holly yearns for a normal life where she can have friends and go to such things as school dances, yet never says anything to her mom outside of passive-aggressive sarcastic zingers. This really does little to make me feel sorry for her, but it does do a lot to make me feel like she’s a giant brat.
The latest destination for the Hamiltons is tough Brooklyn, where Jean, with no job and two kids to support nevertheless lands herself a nice quaint apartment. We know that Brooklyn is tough because when Holly attends her first day at the high school, we’re treated to shots of teenagers from all walks of life (read: all minority groups are nicely represented), and some girl actually gives Holly a nasty look. Go, extra! She is by far my favourite thing in the film. We also learn that Holly is a blogger, which means that the writers tried to incorporate realistic aspects of a teenager’s life into their contrived plot. Her screen name is “Girl on the Move,” for those of you playing the trivia game at home (what, no underscores or upper- and lower-case mixed into a melee of annoyingness?), and she writes about how crappy her life on the go is, and how she’s become an expert packer at this point. It’s about as interesting as it sounds. When I’m more concerned about a glaring typo on her blog than I am about the movie, things don’t look good.
My second favourite thing about The Perfect Man is Amy (Vanessa Lengies, from the defunct "American Dreams"), who is a “tough” “street” girl that befriends Holly on her first day at the scary, public high school. Amy is spunky and cute, but unfortunately greatly underused in this sham. Perhaps this underutilization is a good thing, as the dialogue gets as bad as this: Amy guesses that Holly is new at the school, and when Holly asks how Amy knows, she says it’s all about the skin: “See, us Brooklyn girls lose our skin virginity by fifth grade.” (Who wants to bet the FCC added “skin” to that sentence in post-production?). Holly replies: “In fifth grade I was just learning long division.” Oh, Holly, you are a pit of comedy gold.
Jean, on the other hand, is so self-absorbed and needy that she doesn’t have time to yuck it up. The most blatant exhibition of this lack of self-awareness and selfishness comes through when she tries to hit on the guidance counselor at the PTA meeting, and later suggests single parent mixers (“I just want to meet a good man!”), much to Holly’s chagrin. But it’s when Lenny, the bread manager at Jean’s bakery (which is much too small to need a “bread manager,” but whatever), hits on Jean that Holly feels the need to step in and meddle in her mother’s life. I would normally tell Holly to go away, but it’s lines like, “Did it hurt? When you fell from Heaven? ‘Cause with a face like that, you gotta be an angel, right?” that make Lenny the bumbling, clueless Neanderthal that will never win Jean’s heart. Thankfully, Jean doesn’t fall for this pick-up line, although the resolve won’t last much longer. Remember: even though Jean is hot, she’s desperate to meet men.
Holly, like the caring daughter she is, decides to interfere when she meets Ben (Chris Noth), Amy’s uncle. Noth plays Ben exactly like his character on “Sex & The City,” Mr. Big, if Mr. Big suddenly stopped being a womanizing commitment-phobe. Ben, a successful restaurateur (because in Hollywood, is there anything else?), schools Holly on how to woo a woman with orchids (it makes a woman feel like “there is such a thing as perfect…it’s out there, don’t give up, you’ll find it”), and from this piece of clichéd and trite advice, Holly devises a plan to pursue her own mother with a fake “perfect” man. This is where the film decidedly gets creepy. The first step in stalking her mother comes in the form of an orchid plant from a secret admirer. Amy, who has a brain and just met this crazy girl, obviously questions Holly about her scheme. Holly, summing up the whole theme of the film with two sentences, replies, “An orchid will make my mom feel special, which will make her happy, and not so desperate. Which will make me happy, and then everybody wins.” Yes, Holly, it is always and absolutely all about you, all the time. Fortunately, this revelation comes eighteen minutes into the film, so this is a good time as any to stop watching.
At this point, Jean has already been on a date with the insipid Lenny, who takes her to see a cover band of Styx (this might be the most hilarious part in the film, sadly). Zoe, for once the only voice of reason in this crazy family, thinks that Jean’s secret admirer is a stalker. Jean doesn’t care, because she’s finally gotten the attention of a man. Holly visits Ben again, armed with a tape recorder, to ask him for further advice on how to hit on her own mother. Ben puts up with the brat because she’s friends with Amy, and advises Holly to move on to step two, also known as finding a “deeper connection.” Once interests are established, they should be incorporated into the wooing process.
Holly decides to write her own mother a love letter. Again, the creepiness factor has doubled. And since the letter, which is supposed to employ Jean’s love for word games, is so fantastically ghastly, I’ve decided to transcribe it in all of its cringe-worthy badness:“The letters J-E-A-N used to spell out just another word for denim. But since I found you, I heard those four-letter words and all I think about is another four-letter word: love. L-O-V-E. Being near you is like standing on a triple word score – everything matters three times as much. The sun shines three times as bright and I am three times as happy.”This stalker thing continues for way too long throughout the movie, and culminates into e-mails and instant messaging as Holly desperately tries to keep up the charade. Jean is perfectly content in believing that this mysterious suitor sounds like a sixteen-year old girl, and uses this as a forum to air out her guilty feelings about moving Holly and Zoe around. Here’s a tip: If you feel bad about doing something, stop doing it. But what do I know? I don’t write Hollywood movies. (Surprisingly, Jean will forget all about her guilty feelings later in the film.) The weird thing is, both Jean and the fictitious Ben have screen names for their e-mails: Passionate Baker and Brooklyn Boy, respectively.
The film becomes more horrifying the more it progresses. Holly employs greater and wackier schemes to keep her mom from finding out that she’s been IMing her most private and intimate secrets to her own daughter. The kicker is that Holly, who didn’t seem to be a psychopath at first, is unrepentant about her actions outside of the consequences that they have on her life – no matter how many people they involve.
Thrown into this train wreck is a love interest for Holly, played by the affable Ben Feldman. As Adam, Feldman seems to sleepwalk through most of his scenes, but it’s probably due to Duff’s mediocre acting skills. Adam’s sole role in the film is to make deep psychological contrasts between Holly and her mother, and to show us how much Jean’s neediness and subsequent running away affects Holly’s attitude towards her own relationships. Adam is sensitive and artsy, so my biggest concern is why he puts up with the obviously vapid and selfish Holly.
Since this is categorized as a romantic comedy, the comedy comes in the form of Carson Kressley, fashion guru and one-fifth of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” As Lance, the man-crazy bartender at Ben’s restaurant, he manages to be slightly annoying but is still a good sport about the horrible lines he’s given (“[Ben] knows more about females than I know about…females”). Caroline Rhea, who had that atrocious talk show before Ellen totally kicked her ass, also appears for about five minutes as Gloria, who works at the bakery with Jean but apparently can’t bake very well. Kim Whitley, as Delores, is perhaps the smartest woman in this film, and gets to deliver this gem to the dense Jean: “How come when it’s a man you’re looking at, you’re blind to his flaws, but when it’s you, flaw is all you see?” Of course, Jean doesn’t listen. If she did, there would be no movie, and no paycheck for Hilary Duff.
The Perfect Man is an awful movie because it sincerely treats its audience as if it were a bunch of buffoons. Arguably, there are lessons to be gleaned from this haystack, but sifting through the muck is time better spent elsewhere. ¤ C.Ho.
THE PERFECT MAN: (out of 5)