Material Girls Review

Tanzie (Hilary Duff) and Ava Marchetta (Haylie Duff) are heiresses to the multimillion-dollar Proactiv-like cosmetics company started up by their late father. Much like all the celebutante sisters in Hollywood (the Hiltons the Olsens the Simpsons et. al.) they live the privileged life–seamless entry into the hottest clubs maids waiting on them hand-and-foot actor boyfriends etc. But early on in Material Girls their high lives come crashing down when at a gala feting their beloved dad a video exposes the cosmetics line as dangerous. Their father’s oldest friend Tommy (Brent Spiner) tries to work damage-control magic but the damage is already done only to be worsened when the ditzy sisters accidentally set fire to their mansion. Forced to relocate to their maid’s (Maria Conchita Alonso) tiny apartment blacklisted by the people that matter–and their credit cards declined–the gals decide to go to work as um private investigators looking into what they believe was a scheme to sabotage the company. Along the way self-discovery bangs ‘em over the head. Separately the Duff sisters stay the ‘tween course recycling virtually the same type of role in the same movie and TV show after movie and TV show. The riskiest role either of the two has taken was Haylie’s turn in Napoleon Dynamite–not because it was edgy but rather because it had a potentially larger or smaller appeal than just the Lizzie McGuire crowd. Together in their first movie collaboration it’s double the nausea. It’s as if they decided to come together under an even wider safety net. Their talent as actresses won’t be clear until they take an ever-so-marginal chance but un-ironically they know how to play mini-mogul sisters. Anjelica Huston also stars as Fabiella the one trying to swoop in on Marchetta Cosmetics’ misfortune. We know precisely what we’re getting with Huston but we may never know why she took this role. Same can be said for Lukas Haas as a pro-bono lawyer who went from fare like Gus Van Sant’s Last Days to this (should-be-made-for-Nickelodeon) movie. Martha Coolidge has directed so much TV (The Twilight Zone Sex and the City) and film (Lost in Yonkers The Prince & Me) over the years it’s surprising to learn she wasn’t behind the movie that looks like Material Girls’ biopic: White Chicks. In all mock seriousness though it’s sad to see anyone attempt to helm what can essentially be considered “Duff Corporation” movies let alone a talented Hollywood vet like Coolidge. She had to know the limited parameters she was cornering herself into here but the director still manages to seem a bit lost. For example when she uses visual techniques such as juxtaposed scenes—which looked cool in say Sideways–it feels almost offensive here. It’s the dead-tired rich-girls-to-blissfully-bourgeois-girls story however that delivers the deathblow to the gut. And it’s Coolidge’s (possibly correct) assumption a movie that can be so narrowly focused toward a specific sect of moviegoers is the one that delivers a blow to the soul.