THE PERFECT MAN (2005)
Starring Hilary Duff, Heather Locklear, Chris Noth, Ben Feldman, Vanessa Lengies, Mike O’Malley, Aria Wallace, Caroline Rhea, Amy Acker, James McGowan, Mazin Elzadig, Marvin Kaye, Carson Kressley, Ashley Newbrough, Michelle Nolden, Darryl Pring and Dennis DeYoung.
Screenplay by Gina Wendkos.
Directed by Mark Rosman.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 96 minutes. Rated PG.
A film like The Perfect Man can be a little tricky for a critic. It is not a good film. In fact, in a great many ways it is a bad one. The storyline is built upon a series of contrivances that are unlikely – to be charitable. The characters do not behave or live like real human beings. You know exactly where the movie is going from the jump. More than a few lines of dialogue land with a thud.
Nonetheless, I have to admit that even as the critic in me was categorizing the film’s many miscues, if I gave in and took it on the cheesy level that the movie is shooting for, I kind of (gulp!) enjoyed it.
No one involved in the making of The Perfect Man had any pretense that the film was anything other than a sappy tween-aged love comedy. However, perhaps the move that saves the whole project from being another A Cinderella Story (the last film by this star and director) or Confessions of a Teenaged Drama Queen is the fact that the adult romance is at least as important as the kids’… probably more so.
It also helps that these adults are played by likable TV pros Heather Locklear (Spin City, Melrose Place, Dynasty) and Chris Noth (Sex and the City, Law and Order.) These savvy actors are able to imbue their characters with much more heft and personality than the screenwriter ever did. Due to their talent, we enjoy the company of the these characters we do not really ever believe for a second. Even though (shades of Sleepless in Seattle) the two of them only share one scene together, it crackles with much more chemistry than all of the scenes in which Hilary Duff bounces off the cute-but-misunderstood guy from school (Ben Feldman.)
It’s a good thing they got Locklear and Noth, because otherwise we’d be even more aware that these characters really make little or no sense. In particular Locklear’s character of the mother, Jean, seems more than a little bit disturbed. Jean is so desperate for love that every time she goes through a breakup, she pulls up roots and moves her two daughters Holly (Duff) and Zoe (Aria Wallace) across the country. Now beyond the obvious problems with this idea – this woman is moving every few months; leaving behind jobs and rental deposits just because she seems to believe that she can only date one person per city – there is another, more insidious problem with this characterization. Heather Locklear is never going to be mistaken for a desperate lonely hearts who has to settle for losers. We’re supposed to believe that she has been dumped by a series of guys who couldn’t even dream of landing a woman like her.
As the movie starts, one of these losers is cheating on Jean, so she packs up the boxes and takes a job as a baker in Brooklyn. Now, somehow on a baker’s salary she is able to afford an apartment that is bigger than most lawyers could hope to get. Her daughter Holly has to get used to yet another school, luckily for her in her first minutes in the new school she makes a pretty best friend named Amy (Vanessa Lengies of American Dreams) and catches the attention of a cute and brooding comic book artist in her homeroom (Feldman.)
Holly is so happy with her situation that she dreads the inevitable moment when her mother falls in love with another loser and then gets her heart broken and it’s off to the next town. Then she sees it happening when Jean starts a tentative relationship with a galoot from her work. Lenny (Mike O’Malley of Yes, Dear) is obsessive about his 1980 Trans Am (Jean can’t wear shoes in it for fear of tracking in dirt) and his favorite band – Styx. (There is a nice little inside joke, having former Styx-leader Dennis DeYoung playing the singer of a Styx tribute band, but you have to wonder how many Hilary Duff fans will catch onto the gag.)
Holly becomes sure that her mother will fall for the guy – though, again, there is no way that Heather Locklear would ever date a chubby, bald, classless guy like O’Malley, much less be desperate enough to consider marrying him. So Holly comes up with a novel approach to getting her mom’s mind off of Styx-guy. She decides to woo her mother herself, pretending to be a secret admirer, picking up pointers from her new best friend’s suave Uncle Ben (Chris Noth) – I’ll hold off on the rice jokes – who owns a hot local bistro.
Now overlooking the slight ickiness factor here – after all, it is a story about a girl trying to romance her own mother – you have to figure that eventually the plan will go south when her mother actually wants to meet the object of her affection. Holly slowly comes to realize that Uncle Ben would be the perfect match for mom – if not for that younger, gorgeous woman who is always hanging around talking about weddings with him. (In fact, that woman is a long-standing conflict in the plot that could have been cleared up immediately if Holly and Amy had a simple conversation.)
That is just one of the misunderstandings and repercussions which Holly unleashes with her plan, and while many of them seem convoluted, they do make sense in the warped mirror world in which these characters play.
Duff is perfectly fine in her role, though in her career she keeps playing the same character over and over again and thus is learning very little range. All she really has to do here is pout and look on with pride, both of which she can do like a pro. Lengies is also very likable here and seems to have a good career ahead of her (though her Brooklyn accent does seem a bit overdone) and the romance with Feldman is sweet, if unlikely.
Lord help me though, with all of these problems I still came out of The Perfect Man feeling warmly towards it. It is far from Perfect, but who really needs perfection anyway? Every impulse in my brain says to write off this film, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it did reach me. Sometimes that can be good enough. (6/05)
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted June 5, 2005.