Material Girls

on August 18, 2006 by Bridget Byrne
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The charm of the Duff sisters is clearly visible in "Material Girls." Unfortunately most of it is glimpsed in the blooper outtake end credits, when they are responding naturally to flubs and follies. In the main body of the movie, especially in the early going, they over-do flounce and foolishness with a flurry of acting mannerisms, as primped and preened as their artfully tousled hairdos and beaded and baubled outfits.

It's perhaps understandable they would carry on this way in a game effort to enliven the clunky plot and dialogue by playing two spoiled party girl heiresses, but, even in a glossy piece of nonsense like this, a performance must ring true. (Think Reese Witherspoon as Elle in the original "Legally Blonde.") Gradually as the fictional sisters Tanzie and Ava Marchetta learn more about the reality of life and face up to coping with sudden deprivation, Hilary and Haylie get more convincing. Co-stars like Lukas Haas clearly help. His sweet, smooth, easy performance as the pro bono lawyer, who inspires Ava to use her brain instead of just her looks, enables Haylie to find a more grounded truth in their scenes together.

It's a pity the pretty Duffs didn't pick something less foolish to showcase their appeal than this uninspired fable, which as the ad line explains bumps the rich young daughters of a dead cosmetic tycoon "from the penthouse to the poorhouse." In the movie that sentiment is expressed in clear product placement dialogue -- from Tiffany's to Target. However, whether camping out in their former maid's apartment, locked up in jail, driving a clunky rent-a-car or even landing in a dumpster, the girls are still dressed and jeweled to the ultra trendy hilt(on).

Anjelica Huston is, as usual, dignified and regal, but has little to play with as a cosmetic queen out to take over the sisters' floundering firm. Martha Coolidge's direction treats the whole adventure with more respect than it deserves, which also makes one wish that she'd been able to work with the Duffs on something much more worthwhile. Starring Hilary Duff, Haylie Duff, Anjelica Huston, Lukas Haas and Maria Conchita Alonso. Directed by Martha Coolidge. Written by John Quaintance, Jessica O'Toole and Amy Rardin. Produced by Milton Kim, Tim Wesley, Mark Morgan, Guy Oseary, Hilary Duff, Susan Duff, Eve LaDue and David Faigenblum. An MGM release. Comedy. Rated PG for language and rude humor. Running time: 97 min
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