Material Girls

The amount of time it takes Hilary and Haylie Duff to bust out in a rendition of Madonna’s top-40 song that shares the name of their latest movie: 2 seconds. The amount of time it took for me to wish I was seeing another movie: 2 minutes after that. The amount of time it took for me to wish I was seeing another movie after I decided to give Material Girls the benefit of the doubt: another 2 minutes. If you think that’s amazing, imagine that the movie goes on for over an hour and a half, but sadly nothing really changes beyond those first four minutes. Now imagine how many times I wish I was watching just about anything else over that hour and a half.

Material Girls stars actor/singer sisters Hilary and Haylie Duff as (surprise!) sisters. Instead of actors or musicians, the two play heiresses to a cosmetic fortune built by their father who worked hard to create products that would help women look beautiful without damaging their skin, but sadly died two years ago. From him Tanzie Marchetta (Hilary) got brains and a chemical know how and Ava Marchetta (Haylie) got presentation skills and an unbeatable fashion sense. Actually, she probably acquired those from her briefly mentioned model of a mother, but since the movie largely ignores her we’ll do the same and say it came from her father, who is mentioned at least every five minutes of the movie.

Those constant mentions provide a dual purpose. One, they remind us these young girls have lost someone important to them; something that is driven Tanzie watches a two year old video on her TiVo that featured her father. Secondly, it’s an important plot device because, while the Marchetta sisters may be pretty and stylish, they have none of their father’s business sense, and the makeup business he left them has slowly been dwindling down under the care of his friend Tommy (Brent Spiner) until it’s gotten to a point where the competition (Anjelica Huston) is putting in a bid to purchase the Marchetta company. As the sisters await the offer from the competition, a scandal breaks out, lowering the value of their company even further, defaming their father’s good name and freezing their assets.

Frozen assets are not something these girls can handle. They seem to come from the Paris Hilton school of vacuousness, where material possessions and status are all that’s important (hence the name Material Girls). Without money, they no longer have that status and are forced to root through bags of their own clothes from previous fashion seasons they had given their housekeeper in order to even have something to wear (oh, horror!). This mentality of placing importance only on material goods strikes me as a bit ironic for the characters, considering that the Duff sisters, unlike Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or the Olsen twins, have largely managed to avoid being placed in that same category of egocentric behavior. Instead of playing good role models like the image they’ve maintained for the most part in life, the sisters focus instead on characters who feel like castoffs from “Sex and the City”, particularly appropriate since that was one of director Martha Coolidge’s more recent gigs.

The idea of self-absorbed characters hitting bottom when their resources suddenly dry up is nothing new. After all, the riches to rags story has been the plot of previous comedies ranging from the successful Trading Places to the less impressive Maid to Order. However, Material Girls does something new with the material: the characters never really learn a lesson through having to face their shortcomings. Instead the girls continue their materialistic tendencies and egocentric ways until the bitter end, which, of course, can’t be too bitter. After all, these are the heroines of the picture and already have legions of fans they’d be disappointing if everything came out anything other than rose colored. Instead, Hilary and Haylie Duff teach their fans and everyone else that it’s okay to be self-absorbed as long as you have some skills to rely on, and the skill doesn’t even have to be acting. It certainly isn’t here.

I don’t know what disappoints me more about Material Girls. The idea that the movie loses any sort of moral lesson after forcing the audience to sit through an hour and a half of these girl’s charades that would be better suited for a made for Disney Channel movie or series, or the idea that after managing to maintain some bastion of goodness, the Duff sisters decide to glorify the other side of being a celebrity. Welcome to adulthood, Hillary and Haylie Duff. Here are your T-Mobile Sidekicks and Tabloid news stories. Leave your personalities at the door.